The September Show: Inside the Creation of a Gallery's First Exhibit of the Season
Marion Lane's studio was a blur of activity this summer.
Photo by Ryan Orange
The year before, one of her friends had gotten too drunk.
She remembers that now, standing at the same corner of La Brea Avenue and Second Street at pretty much the same time, doing pretty much the same thing: leaving her gallery, Launch, after her opening and walking to dinner at Cafe Verona.
She'd been too spaced out from the madness of the night, the packed gallery, the daze of having finished the show, the surrealness of being surrounded by people after months working in solitude. So she hadn't really processed it when she'd caught sight of her friend ahead of her, lurching her way unsteadily down the stairs that lead from the gallery. But standing at the corner, at a red light, she'd realized what she'd witnessed — said it out loud to the two men next to her, "She can't drive! We have to stop her."
There was no "we," as it turned out: It was her, alone, the artist who'd just had an opening, running down the street in high heels through the November drizzle, silhouetted by car lights like a scene in some French movie.
And when she'd finally stopped — her mission hopeless, her friend weaving off in traffic into the night — she realized, my feet hurt.
Like tonight. At the corner. Looking down, and remembering that run, and that opening, the year before.
For the last three months, as Marion Lane finished the paintings, she'd put on nothing other than rubber slide-ons, which could get wet and splattered with paint, and yoga pants and T-shirts already so covered with the substance that you couldn't distinguish a base color. It was her uniform as she got ready for the September show — the opening that launches a gallery's fall season.
She'd had the September spot once before, for her first solo show. Mat Gleason, then-publisher of the underground art journal Coagula, had given it to her at his space in the Brewery. She'd been too naive to know what the September show meant then. Thirteen years later, at 50, she knows.
Before her paintings had even come down from her last show, in January 2013, she'd told James Panozzo, her Launch gallerist, that she wanted September. He'd looked at her as if she were crazy, but he'd said OK.
And she'd started in on it, working hard. Or — that was what she thought.
In May she realized she really wasn't working hard enough. She'd still see her mom, actress Grace Zabriskie, recently of Big Love, and an artist herself. The two were close. And she'd walk her dogs — 7 a.m., every day, Griffith Park.
That stopped: She needed those first hours of wakefulness, when she was so clear, so productive.
At 5:30 a.m. she would start in with the paint, pouring it. The studio in her house wasn't large enough to give her sufficient perspective on the series as a whole. So, to compose, she'd work outside, each morning hauling the heavy panels that she used in place of canvas to her outdoor studio, then, around 10 a.m., pulling them inside before rays of late-morning sun could hit them directly and crack the paint.
Lane works in a collage-like way — for the most part, the acrylic paint she uses isn't applied directly to the panel. Instead, she mixes colors in buckets, then pours, drips, speckles and spreads the paint onto plastic sheets to create hundreds and hundreds of shapes, then builds them upon each other, or places them side by side, on panels. The results are sometimes more sculpture than painting, topographies of Day-Glo or pastel mountains and dots that spring up like sea anemones sucking in the viewer, or tubular funnels of concentric colored circles waving in some unseen water source — pick your sensual poison.
She'd had phases when her work brushed up against the representational — say, birds on the horizon. But the abstracts of her September show turned away from that to surrealist landscapes. She created incandescent, iridescent backgrounds, sometimes dripping with paint, applied by brush and squeegee, then, on top, placed the premade pieces. They were wavy, languid, luminous, curvy amoeba shapes, some looking as if they'd been left with a swish of a brush when, in fact, they hadn't.
The plastic sheets she used to make these forms, and the forms themselves, filled her house like fields of wet, morphing color — studio to kitchen to living room to bath. At night, to sleep, she'd have to slide them off her bed. During the day, there was no room for anyone to sit, no room to visit. But she herself was long past the point of doing any kind of entertaining. She was barely cooking for herself. And she wasn't into talking.
In August, she paused for 72 hours. An old friend was getting married. She was a bridesmaid. For a brief moment she thought, "If I drive myself instead of going in the limo, I could get home early."
But it was her friend's day. She went with the bride.
It was her only break. She was living in the paint. Even when there were friends, assistants, in the house, at the height of the day's heat, when she was precluded from work, she wasn't talking. By the time September came, it had been close to a three-month silent meditation. People would call: "Should I bring you food?"
"Honestly," she'd say at the afterparty the night of her opening, "You just want to say, 'Could you just have takeout delivered?' "
But that Marion Lane, the one turned inward, is replaced by a different woman at her opening. She tries to say hello to everybody, to be aware of their experience. She even goes to an opening at the downstairs gallery on her way to her afterparty, to be respectful of the other artist. Tonight she talks and talks.
She's spent so much time alone. And now there's so much sound. And so many people in one place. It's surreal, like coming up for air from months at liquid sea.
Sometime that last month, as she lugged the 4-foot panels back and forth from the house, where they stayed cool during the day to her outside studio, where, in the evening, she could step far enough back to compose the paintings, the physical and mental difficulty of the work took hold of her. She thought, "I am never going to do this again." She swore off painting.
"Here it is," she says on the phone, less than a week after her opening, laughing, "And I'm painting again."
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Twitter:
Follow Public Spectacle on Facebook
Get the Theater
Your weekly guide to local culture with calendar listings and theater, dance, and comedy reviews.