Given the miseries of the current summer, Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art gallery’s exhibit of new work by Hung Liu, Anne Austin Pearce, and Mary Ann Strandell is a welcome tonic. Installed separately, each show is a knockout. These three artists couldn’t be more different stylistically; they have very distinctive, confident voices in their choice of subject matter and in the diverse media they choose for their art. Yet two persistent themes — those of migration and displacement — run like threads through all three shows.
Hung Liu is known for her lush, gilded palette and her work here is no exception. (All the pieces in “Seedlings” are prints, and either gold or silverleaf was applied individually to each work). Liu is also recognized for her complex portraits of women and girls. “Seedlings” is different in both its minimalism and her choice of subject matter, primarily simple depictions of children. Also included are striking closeups of dandelions blowing in the wind.
Liu’s inspiration for “Seedlings” was Dorothea Lange’s iconic black and white photographs of poor families forced to migrate across America during the Great Depression, in wrenching survival mode as they looked for work and a place to live. Dandelions, with their windborne florets, are another of Liu’s references to the kind of epic, forced diasporas that not only affected many Chinese people such as herself, but that also changed the existence of so many Americans. Brilliant as Lange’s photographs are, they are undeniably bleak; Liu’s prints burst with variegated color and suggest outcomes that are more hopeful.
The multi-layered, collaged paper works in Anne Austen Pearce’s “Path” represent another kind of odyssey, one that is simultaneously deeply personal as well as cosmic in scope. The nine abstract artworks in her exhibit were all cut from one massive roll of paper that Pearce drew and painted on over the last 18 months as she moved from Wyoming to Kansas City and finally, California, where she now lives. She then cut and collaged segments from various works of art she had created over the last decade onto the different, large sheets, creating a rich, textured effect.
Besides symbolizing her own personal journey, the branches, veins and layers of strata in “Path” are emblematic of the earth itself, and resonate with the connections Pearce feels “to everything that has lived or died” since the beginning of time. These works signify the deepest of interior landscapes, both geological and emotional. Several pieces, such as “Sea Beds Dried” and “First Plunged in Firefly,” visually reference water and are also oceanic in feeling.
Pearce is celebrated for her luscious, sensual watercolors. In works such as “Words Resting in Guts” and “Watson’s Fire and Funeral,” she chooses to explore the darkness that is the flip side of all that emotion. Balancing references to ecological disasters, Pearce suggests that destruction and/or rebirth, whether for individuals or the planet, are equally possible.
Mary Ann Strandell has always been a time traveler, with specific interests in architecture, nature, animals and the decorative arts. All these subjects are part of “Conversation,” and they all chatter together, regardless of their respective timelines, and even if their dialogues seem hermetic.
Verdant paintings of birds, tulips, magnolia trees, and parks — all of them bursting with life— are situated next to historic edifices such as the Western Auto and Power and Light buildings in Kansas City. There are also mid-century modern living rooms (conversation pits) filled with decorative objects such as sputnik lamps, floating 18th-century chinoiserie and strange animals. Strandell has long used lenticulars in her artwork, which add a three-dimensional floating quality to some of her images. Ghostly blueprints also hover over some architectural pieces.
Strandell’s migrations take the form of memory journeys and are thought forms as much as actual reproductions of places and things. Some bring pleasure, some are strange, and others make us wonder what came before and what will follow. There’s really no such thing as time or space in Strandell’s art; she creates the constancy of nature and beauty while also showing the beginning of everything human-made while hinting at its ultimate demise.
Hung Liu: Seedlings,” “Anne Austin Pearce: Path” and “Mary Ann Strandell: The Conversation” continue at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave., through Aug. 22. Call to make an appointment, 816.221.2626. For more information, www.sherryleedy.com.