There hasn't been, in recent memory, an exhibition title more fitting than Beautiful Mess, within which artist Liz Maugans delivers a dynamic collection of serene chaos.
At the HEDGE Gallery entrance, there's a sculpture of a yellow lighthouse, a cardboard beacon that hopes to guide us safely into the harbor of Maugans' mind. A sign that shouts "rough road" keeps us in check as we examine the contents.
Many of the works are dedicated to the artist's late mother, Fern, whose presence is most definitely felt within the space, not just because of the many live fern plants placed about the gallery, but also because of the pieces themselves. The achingly beautiful "Mother (Fern)" is an homage to the many-layered woman pushing forward from the background and spilling out from the frame with delicate fronds, as if to embrace whomever stands before it.
"The Last Handhold" is another collage that spills out from its frame. Four sets of hands are clenched in what could be perceived as prayer, with ghostlike lines connecting them. Yellow, gray, white and peach tears might have us cascading toward the floor or else lead us upward into infinity.
The nautical theme is deep with "Double Lighthouse." Along with waves, ropes, hands and anchors, the lighthouse theme repeats often throughout the exhibition. Maugans displays this screen print and print media collage with a neon and Plexiglas sign that reads "Beautiful Mess" and furthers the installation with ferns.
Speaking of installations, how the print collages are presented is new to our eyes. The artworks are floated within wooden frames atop a backsplash of color painted directly onto the gallery wall. It is a marvelous installation that busts open the seams of how to present two-dimensional work.
"Same Old" is one of these pieces. Paired with "Midlife Rodeo," a series of ceramic tablets that Maugans created weekly, "Same Old" becomes bolder than if it were in a conventional frame. The shapes within this vast support resemble stepping stones peeping out from water.
Says Maugans about this work in her statement: "Routine and habit scare the hell out of people, especially when you hit 50. Routine plateaus as an uncomfortable normalcy takes over. We have a love/hate relationship with sameness, constancy, schedules and instead we seek transition, newness and things we want to fill our lives with, particularly things that are gone ..."
"The Last Bikini" repeats these stepping stones, although more of them contain words such as "circus," "time" and "rut". This piece tells the story of getting older, and society dictating that perhaps it's best to cover ourselves up. Our less-than-taut bodies and imperfections are no longer accepted.
We had the privilege of seeing the original collage that lies underneath "Girl-nica", the large print collage on display in the smaller gallery room. The black, white and umber drawing is loose and highly gestural compared to the multi-layered, very tight artwork it has become. There are so many things going on in this particular artwork that it's impossible not to compare it with Maugans' favorite painting, "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso. The eye travels throughout this work so much that we need to take a moment to get our bearings.
"To everyone who sees this," states Maugans about "Girl-nica," "those that are anchors and lighthouses, the ones that parachute into lives of others, the people holding the rope or the others barely hanging on, this work was for me, the (optical) illusion of both me as a girl and now as an older woman. This work is about how we clutch our hands together, praying we see another day, another moment that can be shared with those that we love."
One of the quieter works is "Audra Ascending." It's a tall and quiet piece, with clouds and tears evaporating from the multifaceted vessels below. Although all of the works are contemplative, "Audra Ascending" is particularly moving with its audible silence. We were also fond of the grouping of four rope prints that are sumptuous, dark and almost gothic.
Beautiful Mess has Maugans' powerful visual lexicon at the helm, guiding us through loss, laughter and liability for our past and future. We've gone back to see this exhibition several times and there are details that surprise us each time — much like life.