New Last Gasp releases explore the unsettling art of Laurie Lipton and Elizabeth McGrath
It's precisely the intricacy of such details that makes Lipton's work a challenge to fit into book format. The book itself is a handsome volume indeed, a compact 10 and a half inches by nine and a half inches, with a black, leather-look cover, and embossed silver lettering which subtly complements the many shades of gray employed by Lipton in her drawings. Many of the collected works are displayed with one page devoted to the full work, and another page with zoomed-in views of some of the most meticulous details. A drawing of a cobwebbed skeleton in royal court attire (Queen of Bones, 2009) gets a close-up of the knuckle bones that line her sumptuous brocade cloak, while The Three Fates (1997) gets one of a hundred tiny bodies crammed onto one small portion of an impossibly long conveyor belt passing in front of the gnarled figures of the titular Fates. But while these close-ups are helpful in decoding some of Lipton's more ingenious inventions, the full impact of her larger works eludes the reader somewhat.
At a book signing at Varnish Gallery, one could get a slightly better idea of scale and composition via a slideshow, during which Lipton pointed out details we might have missed otherwise: flocked wallpaper decorated with hundreds of unsentimental clocks behind a baby carriage containing an elderly man in Second Childhood (1989); or a weathered, Maria Bello blonde peering frankly at her descending reflection in Mirror Mirror (2002) — the final figure of which is, Lipton assured us, an elderly woman, not quite visible in the book, but clearly delineated on the original.
Lipton herself is a gamine 50-something with a friendly, casual air. By her own account, she grew up in a supportive, suburban environment, but was drawn early to the shadowy themes and macabre images that typify her rigorous art. She described this apparent dissonance with the help of a visual aid: Pandora's Box (2011), in which a delicate-looking porcelain doll clutches a wooden music box, from which a screaming horde of tortured and demonic faces issues, screaming, into the atmosphere. It's unsubtle, perhaps, but artfully concise. For artists especially, external appearance means little. It's what seethes inside that personifies them best.
"I can't drive, I can't cook, I can't put up shelves," Lipton confessed, flashing a disarmingly bright smile. "All I can do is draw." That much, at least, is unambiguous. *
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