“Iquestion what it is exactly that I’m doing practically every day,” laughs L.A. artist Lecia Dole-Recio. It’s just a few weeks before her “MOCA Focus” show opens, and we’re sitting in her Echo Park studio. Surrounding us are three large pieces she recently completed, which will be featured in the show, as well as a smattering of her smaller-scale works — roughly the size of the now nearly defunct vinyl album cover — some of which will also be included in the show. Dole-Recio has tightly cropped dark hair and is dressed in solid-blue pants and a white T-shirt. Her monochromatic appearance provides an intriguing contrast to the gorgeous mayhem currently oozing off the walls on this particularly sizzling July day. Dole-Recio goes on to explain how each piece begins with a “problem” or a “set of concerns,” though that initial premise becomes a more fluid proposition once the work begins.
“Especially with the bigger pieces, everything starts moving and changing very quickly, adding something here or there, letting the composition reveal itself,” she says.
Looking at a piece of art by Dole-Recio is like standing in the middle of a geometrically inclined meteor shower. Though the shimmering lines of colors in her pieces forge a descending trajectory that feels viscerally spontaneous, at the same time one intuits a very deliberate exploration of composition. Her process hints at a kind of architecturally or geographically inspired diagramming that is meticulous in execution, though, ultimately, those are concepts that have been suggested by people — critics, curators and such — other than the artist herself.
Dole-Recio’s is a rigorously formal quest, and one sees the artist, as she matures, getting more and more adventurous with the relationships of color and hue, the hierarchy of color as it is unleashed in a multitude of shapes traveling across her patchwork surfaces — the potent pitch of those relationships being matched only by the delicate and meticulous nature of the actual construction and how those processes reveal, upon closer inspection, an equally fervent desire to mine the effects of assemblage and the various textures that are produced.
“With a lot of artists working in ways conceptually similar to Lecia, I think a lot of the pieces from any given body of work tend to look the same, almost as if the canvases were lined and executed simultaneously,” says L.A. gallerist Richard Telles, who’s worked with Dole-Recio for many years. “With Lecia, things come out looking different almost every time; there’s something very contemporary about that.”
This variety is well-represented in her “MOCA Focus,” which features four larger-scale works, one midsize and a handful of the smaller works, all of which have a distinctly unique feel to them. Between the many processes of assemblage and painting — and the fact that the elements are held together by extra-strength Scotch tape — her works have a visceral feel that is almost sculptural in effect, despite the fact that they are always hung and possess a basic two-dimensionality.
“I kept telling Lecia how easy it was working with her. Compared to architects, a fine artist was such a joy,” says MOCA curator Brooke Hodge, whose expertise is in architecture. “And yet, at the same time, I perceived something fundamentally architectural about Lecia’s work and wasn’t at all surprised when I found out she’d started out studying architecture and had spent time photographing buildings in Mexico City, New York and L.A.”
And though one might suspect that some formula such as “mapping” exists as a blueprint, ultimately, what’s more compelling about the work is the artist’s ability, through nonrepresentative means, to create a sense of both mystery and emotional resonance. The art skates across so many boundaries that in the end, it exists in a realm all its own. Although the skeins of color work almost bait the viewer to reflexively construct his or her own accompanying mininarrative, it’s probably much wiser to stop looking for a story, or worrying about the whys and hows, and to let each piece catapult one into a universe where the bombastic spontaneity of Jimi Hendrix collides with the cerebral austerity of Donald Judd.
When asked whether she’s drawing from a deeper well, or trying to convey an emotional agenda, the artist remains fairly circumspect, preferring to draw on the more theoretically driven dialogue of her training at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Eighth Street Studio (in NYC) and then, later, Pasadena’s Art Center in discussing her work.
“Not specifically, but I try to let the inherent qualities of like, say, flame red, magenta or cardboard brown do that on their own,” says Dole-Recio. “Shapes carry their own connotations as well; we see a diamond so differently than an oval or square. Sometimes, they hover, or linger; sometimes, they zip away from us.”
Another potent aspect of Dole-Recio’s work is the way materials “carry over” from one piece to the next. The process began back during the artist’s MFA days when a piece that “wasn’t working” would be cut up, then would find its way into future works, creating a serendipitous thematic cohesion from one piece to the next.
“I guess there are some sociopolitical analogies one could make, the dismantling of systems or hierarchies, what defines our identities in the world, or the sometimes subtle difference between passing and assimilating,” says Dole-Recio. “The thing with abstraction is one has the liberty to plug in meanings. I do make the work mostly informed by a formal practice or intuition; however, I’m sure those decisions are somehow influenced by my relationships and social experience outside of the studio. It would be impossible to not let that affect my thought process.”
To date, the larger-scale works have gone as high as 10 feet and nearly as wide, and contain what looks like a wild array of processes — patterns running alongside splashes or teardrops of painting, whole clouds of color mutating in tone and hovering in areas that, in turn, might be compositionally offsetting a fleet of soaring diamonds somewhere else in the piece. With the smaller pieces, one senses that a more singular issue has been addressed. How do a handful of colors, sometimes even just two, relate? What is their effect in a diagonal trajectory?
Recently, Dole-Recio’s palette has been headed, it seems, toward a darker and more vivid place. “The colors have slowly become more dynamic. Increasing the contrast and hues gives those grays and whites even more to do, more to interact with,” she says. Evidence of that is a new, large piece in the “Focus” show that began and is based, for the first time in the artist’s career, in black.
“I’ve known that I had to make a painting on a dark support for at least a year. I didn’t know how, or what color, really, just the thought was so daunting. But I went out for materials, and found this large, black roll of paper. With some ignorance, I thought it’d be the reverse of what I usually do when starting out a large painting on vellum [a white or translucent support], but, sometimes, you have to sort of bait yourself into making a big change.”
MOCA FOCUS: LECIA DOLE-RECIO | MOCA, 250 Grand Ave., downtown | Through October 23