Artist Alison Saar curated her first group show at L.A. Louver, “SeenUNseen,” a group show featuring the work of 10 artists who try to capture spirits in their work using a variety of media. PHOTO Courtesy of L.A. Louver

L.A. Louver exhibition explores out-of-body experiences and unseen spirits

By Bridgette M. Redman

Art helps us to have conversations about abstract issues, about concepts that transcend our physical forms, and about those things which we cannot perceive with our usual senses.
L.A. Louver is currently hosting two exhibitions providing a platform for discussing those ideas through art. Their shows, Don Suggs’ “Out of Body” and “Seen/UNseen,” run through Jan. 8 in Venice.

Louver showcases artist’s last body of work

The “Out of Body” exhibition features five large paintings by Suggs, who passed away in July 2019 when he was hit by a car while walking. It was his original intent to make 10 paintings in the series, but he was only able to accomplish five of them.

“They are called ‘out of body’ because they are literally out of the body of his own work,” said Elizabeth East, L.A. Louver director and the curator of the exhibition. “He basically went into his archive of paintings and selected a number of works he wanted to readdress. These were completed works, fully resolved that had been in shows before.”

Suggs then began to work over these older works, adding shapes and overlaying new images. Before he died, he gave a statement about his intent and process.

“The core idea is one of interposition,” he wrote. “Pre-existing pictures are overlaid with three simple forms: circles, bars and occasional ‘bumps.’…The circle/bar combination can be read as ‘pendulum,’ and the re-resolved painting can be thought of as appended.”

L.A. Louver worked with the artist’s widow to put together the show. The focus is on the five large paintings that Suggs created as part of the “Out of Body” series, but they are also presenting work from three different series Suggs did related to the paintings. All done in 2016, they preceded the paintings.

In one, he is taking digital versions of earlier artworks and reworking it based on the image of the painting. It led him to the work he did where he worked over the actual painting.

“Something that has to be underscored is that there was no sense he felt the original painting was unfinished,” East said. “It was providing another layer of conversation. He was readdressing these paintings using this abstract language he had developed.”

L.A. Louver had worked with Suggs since the late 1970s, so for them there was no question that they would display this work.

“With over four decades of being champions of his work, it was an obvious and natural choice to show this last body of work,” East said. “We have always felt that his rigor as an artist and the sort of sincerity and truth by which he approaches his work has always come through in a very profound way. Like many of his pieces, these are perplexing works. They confound the viewer in some instances and they operate in multiple ways. They operate aesthetically, but also emotionally and certainly intellectually. They appeal in so many different ways and that is their strength.”

Group show captures unseen spirits

The “Seen/UNseen” exhibition was curated by Alison Saar, a group show featuring the work of 10 artists who try to capture spirits in their work using a variety of media. It looks at the ways images can be manipulated to capture phenomenal presences.

The news release for the exhibit says they gathered artists who are believers, agitators, healers and mediums who draw upon history, folklore, politics and ancestral inheritance. The artists are JOJO ABOT, Rina Banerjee, Vanessa German, Kathy Grove, Julia Haft-Candell, Keisha Scarville, Ricardo Vicente Jose Ruiz, Kenyatta A.C. Hinckle, Arthur Simms and Saar herself.

JOJO ABOT became a part of the show after Saar visited her solo show last May and wanted to include some of her pieces in the exhibit. A multi-disciplinary artist, her works in this exhibition combine yarn, beads and paint upon a canvas.

“It was a sort of collaboration between myself and pre-existing material, which comes from parts of Africa,” JOJO ABOT said. “That became the foundation for the piece. You have my work which is the impressions made upon it with the acrylic and the yarn and the thread added on.”

Her heritage contributes to and permeates her work. She said that as an African, there will always be a physical or metaphysical collaboration between who she is and the incarnation of who her people are. Those are things that she feels come through in her work authentically because it is a part of her.

Consciousness is an important practice for JOJO ABOT. She wants to remain connected to her god state as often as possible, if not full time.

“There is nothing I do that is devoid or absent of that state of consciousness,” JOJO ABOT said. “I believe that as part of our larger calling in being brought into this world, we are caretakers, we are connectors, healers. We are tending to all that is part of creation and we are tending to ourselves.

She has high praise for Saar’s work and was honored to be asked to participate in “Seen/Unseen” and that Saar came to her solo show.

“To meet her in that way and to see that relationship has been a beautiful gift,” JOJO ABOT said. “L.A. Louver feels like a family. It’s been around a long time and the founder has a great devotion to and love for art.”

Being a late entry into the show, she’s enjoyed discovering the other artists that are a part of it.

“That’s been an incredible joy just witnessing how people embody their calling, how people practice their own alchemy,” JOJO ABOT said. “And then to experience the collective voice that is led by Alison’s vision — it really feels very cohesive, very clear, very rich. It feels intentional and all those things deeply resonate with me and my philosophies. I’ve felt good every time I’ve been there. It feels like it has energy that holds you, but also invites you into imagination and wonder.”

Saar’s contribution to the exhibition is a life-sized female figure surrounded by mirrors and bits of flash to attract wandering spirits. It is in the south gallery and the work represents an interlocutor between our world and the next. It draws from stories of Yoruba tradition, layered with those of classical Greek myth.

While Saar has exhibited with L.A. Louver since 2006, this is the first exhibition she has curated for the gallery. In so doing, she found works that communicate with each other in different ways.

German’s mixed media sculptures are assembled from found materials, each with their own history. Scarville reanimates clothing that once belonged to her late mother. Simms’ assemblage works use found material that builds upon historical artistic personalities and movements. Works from Hinkle and Ruiz build upon social movements and use the language of change for such movements as Black Lives Matter and indigenous communities.

Other works call upon personal spiritual practices such as Haft-Candell’s personalized Tarot deck and Banerjee’s lyrical titles that spill forth as poetic evocations. Each artist has his or her own way of touching the other-wordly, of making spirit manifest in the physical world of their art work.

JOJO ABOT is new to LA and said she is looking to build community.

“This city has a lot of magic to offer,” JOJO ABOT said. “Part of that is me opening up to community and this project has been an opportunity to do so. I just invite everyone into my universe that is ever evolving as I’m constant questioning and existing in eternal questions —what is love? What is community? What is presence? I invite all to share and build community with me.”

L.A. Louver
45 North Venice Boulevard, Venice