Sunday, April 21, 2013

Marthe Aponte and Aboriginal Art

the sure hand and open heart of a modern master -- or, "Come on in, the water's fine!"

AVC's French teacher Marthe Aponte is a woman of many talents. Based on her work under Jacques Derrida at U.C. Irvine, she understands the difficult and subtle linguistic theory of "Deconstruction" better than anybody on campus. (Her closest rival might be Santi Tafarella, in the English Department, or Nicelle Davis, also in English. When he first arrived at Irvine from Yale, Derrida was all everybody talked about, and I went to some of his lectures but confess that mostly I walked away baffled. His secretary though once tried to steal my office desk, so he and I were rivals from the start.)

For Marthe Aponte, her students in French learn how to have very very good accents, while those classes are further enriched by her cross-cultural Caribbean perspective, since Ms. Aponte taught in Venezuela as well. For Professor Aponte, languages are not just bundles of grammar and rules, but also are delivery mechanisms for expressing the full potential of the human spirit.

We can see attitude that in her solo show up now in the AVC Art Gallery.

(Note to others: please don't touch the art!)

Encouraged initially by Warren Scherich and other local artists, Marthe has developed a substantial body of work in a relatively brief period of time. This show then have several messages. One is the formal beauty of the pieces themselves. Another is a comment on scale and viewing distance; Aponte's art has one kind of structure and elegance when seen from across the room, and then opens up (like a close-up photograph of a flower or a drop of milk) to have other, even more beautiful, worlds hidden inside. Look at this close-up shot:

Here are some more pieces, as seen being studied at the opening reception.

And here now is a more detailed look at the surface texture itself. Isn't this just amazing? You can get lost inside of these worlds within worlds within worlds.

Another message of the show is one of encouragement and invitation. While I am happy to enjoy her pieces and want to talk her about their connections to larger artistic movements, I also think the show just reminds all of us that we do not have to "be" one thing. Marthe could have said, oh, I am too busy to make art, or too old, or too intimidated, or I have too many committee meetings. Instead, she is like a person willing to swim to Antarctica from the Pier at Santa Monica: she just closed her eyes and jumped into the water.

The results are amazing. To have such a rich and substantial solo show as is up now speaks not just to her talent, but also to her courage, and to the ways in which she is modeling a rich, creative life for the rest of us. I write every day (one to ten hours a day, in fact) but often wish I could do more with photography. Here's a recent shot of mine that I like, of a young Joshua tree spike.

I shot it one day and didn't like the results -- the lighting was off, but it was out of focus because I was holding the camera up over my head so put the truck in 4wd and went back on this same trail a second day, this time bringing a ladder. I do take photography seriously, and would like to practice is it every day. Even so, I hardly am ready for a solo show, and never even really thought that I could "deserve" one. Marthe Aponte has lit a fire under me: now I want to make not just more art, but much better art, on a sustained visual theme. It's as if she already swam to Antarctica and is standing on the shore, wrapped in a duvet, waving at the rest of us --- "Come on over, it's not as far as it looks!"

She also reminds me how much our recent visual culture still has to offer. When I look at her large, bold expanses of direct red, I am returned to my childhood pleasures of coloring a blank page with markers or crayons, and to the simple honest pleasure of color as color. It of course calls to mind Rothko, who famously said, when asked about the ideal viewing distances, that he wanted a person to get right up close --- to stand no more than six inches away, in order to fall into the color field completely.

One Los Angeles- (and recently, UK-) based artist who also celebrates color this way is David Hockney. I went to his huge show in London at the Royal Academy last year, and he deserves the reputation he has. (That show had over 700,000 visitors, limited in part by tickets, which had sold out. Longer hours or a bigger venue, and the number could have doubled.)

Hockney says --- and the Aponte show verifies it too --- that color has meaning by itself, even if it's a bit askew from so-called normal reality. Here's a small detail of a much larger panorama of a veranda in Mexico.

Getting up close to Marthe's work also brings to mind that most cliche and yet still-interesting of mid-20th century artists, Jackson Pollock.

Of course the main visual tradition she wants us to connect her work to is that of recent (1980 and after) Australian Aboriginal painting. See for example this piece, "Five Dreamings" by Michael Nelson Jakamarra and friends.

It may not be clear in the blog, but the colors are built up out of small dots, sometimes applied with a Q-tip. This compressed visual narrative tells many stories at once: it is a topographic map of landscape, it is a comment on Australian ecology, it is a family history of clan boundaries, and it's a retelling of a creation myth. Some of us may have seen Biblical art, showing a saint's death or the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, but those works rarely incorporate as many layers as an Aboriginal piece manages to include.

Clifford Possum Japaljarri -- and even his name makes me envious --- includes dingo tracks, a man killed after a fight and chase, territorial claims to water holes, and clan totems, all in the same unified visual field. (There is more of course than just that; see Peter Sutton's "Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia" for a much fuller explanation of the implied narratives and sudden joys of pieces such as these.)

When these paintings first came to L.A. I remember being utterly transported by their overall cohesion and fresh visual look, as well as admiring the minute parts from which they are built.

AVC has something like that now with the Aponte show. Here is another close-up shot. Christine Mugnolo and I were joking that this level of detail would drive us batty. Yet Marthe makes it look not only effortless, but inevitable.

Others think so too; her opening reception was bursting with curious, excited people.

One of the things the AVC Gallery does well is to provide music at openings; the art piece in the background here is a bit blown out (my camera doesn't like the hot spots created by the gallery lights), but we can admire the musician's vest: he certainly fits his visual environment.

This leaves us to ask Marthe one final question, but it's a big one.

It's great that you have come this far . . . what's next?


The Antelope Valley College blog is curated by Charles Hood, Language Arts, and does not represent the views of the District or the Board of Trustees. Hood can be reached at

1 comment:

  1. There are many art forms belonging to different regions and I am a great admirer of them, especially Aboriginal Art. It is the only form that expresses everything differently in a contemporary manner.