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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/20/2005 Archived Entry: "Gallery review: Avenue 50 Studio - J. Michael Walker"

Mermaids Spotted in L.A.
Gallery review by Paul Evans

Geisha mermaids, that is...And they can be seen through August 7 at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park. The artist, J. Michael Walker, offers us a glimpse into his visionary world of these curious hybrid seductresses.

The paintings on view, according to Walker, are meant to honor women. Initially, one may view these works as lighthearted, playful narratives but there might be more at work here. Walker’s process is quite simple and he succeeds in making large works on canvas look more like intimate pen and ink drawings. The geisha mermaids and accompanying narrative are painted in black over an apocalyptic color-field under-paint (greens, yellows, and reds). It’s an effective and no nonsense device. The ubiquitous black forces the viewer to contend with or contemplate the protagonist in Walker’s stories.

Conventionally, we imagine mermaids as illusionary sirens, luring sailors with the promise of love but leaving them to their demise in the depths of the sea. Geishas, by contrast, are usually earthbound, relegated to special districts and trained to “entertain” men. Like mermaids, geishas convey the illusion of the ideal or perfect woman but ended up as temporary companions to many men. In Walker’s temptresses, these disparate environments, qualities and conditions commingle in suggestive and disorienting ways.

That being said, one can perhaps view these works as salvations. Why does he choose to combine these two archetypes? I would like to believe both the mermaids and geishas have learned a thing or two. By combining them here, they are now über-women. All past discretions vanished, the geisha mermaids can now live freely; catching up on some much needed summer reading, enjoying a massage from a friendly octopus (perhaps this monster of the sea has received some comeuppance?), or even a drive along the pacific coast highway. Walker successfully takes a tricky subject matter and makes us question stereotypes and human behavior. He also reminds us that sometimes it’s ok to just relax and enjoy ourselves a little.

Enjoy yourself by visiting Avenue 50 Studio at 131 N. Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA 90042, 323-258-1435, Tues through Thurs 10:00am to 12:00 noon; Sat and Sun 10:00am to 4:00pm

Las Geisha Mermaids runs through August 7 HELD OVER to August 21.

Paul Evans is a Los Angeles based artist and freelance writer.

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