Disparate beads of various colors and sizes congeal to form swirls and streams, swamps of sagging skin and bouquets of lachrymal blades. Diffuse spores make up dense clouds, granular filigree, fluid and kaleidoscopic swarms of fluorescent, pastel, and murky hues, and creased masses that reveal veins, stipules, and petals in full bloom.
These images occupy the canvases in Constellate, Bea Alcala’s latest solo show. At first glance the paintings seem to muddle the figural and the abstract: dots comprise organic shapes and patterns that incompletely represent familiar forms. Indeed, verisimilitude is rejected as Alcala adopts the laborious and obsessive process of pointillism—a technique she first experimented with while creating the polka dot-embellished sculptures she would later submit as part of her undergraduate thesis—to visualize close-ups of different flora she encountered during travels.
Relying on photographs of dahlias and starfruit trees among others, semi-abstracted by virtue of zooming and cropping, as reference materials, Alcala further fragments and atomizes these images into arrays of dots, chaotic but confined, applied either via paintbrush or stamped with the end of a dermatograph pencil. Having disintegrated the conventional brushstroke, Alcala presents works that simultaneously espouse seemingly polar qualities: controlled and spontaneous, predetermined and contingent, repetitive and dynamic. The process of applying the points is mechanical yet no two dots are the same and this capricious act is subsumed under a rigid compositional skeleton wherein colors are arbitrarily chosen, exaggerated, and primarily used to demarcate sections signifying the subjects’ contours and outlines.
Initially spurred by the desire to create images conveying—but also embodying in a blatantly reflexive manner—the idea that all matter is made up of particles, Alcala thus imagines whole environments subjected to the unsparing gaze of a microscope. In the Charles and Ray Eames short film Powers of Ten(1977), we first see an overhead shot of a picnic scene before zooming out to show a district. This outward expansion continues and although the camera’s speed appears constant, the field captured onscreen expands exponentially every ten seconds. The city gives way to show the state, the country, then the continent, weather formations appear, we leave the planet and orbits become visible, constellations and other galaxies follow until finally we reach the limits of our observable universe. We hurriedly zoom back in to the picnic scene, slowly creeping into the man’s hand, entering a pore, crawling past dermal layers before reaching the cellular level, organelles appear followed by DNA helices, molecules, atoms, a cloud of electrons, the nucleus, protons and neutrons, before finally ending at the subatomic scale.
Similarly, the works in this exhibit suggest the relative sizes of things in our universe and metaphorically represents this through the artist’s painstaking process. Just like in the film, vast territories are ensconced within one another. The relation and parallels between subject and gesture exhibits Alcala’s consciousness of their fractal nature. Dots accumulate, layers form, and patterns emerge. Each mark, however scaled, points to smaller and larger units thereby squeezing infinitely vast worlds in each embossed globule just as each canvas is rendered as yet another miniscule specimen, a speck of dust in the greater scheme. Her acrylic paintings show disjointed anatomies; their neat segmentation is dissolved to collapse the seemingly infinite gap between surface and atom, cell and landscape, particle and universe, thereby uncoiling infinitely recursive chains of associations. The works assemble ecologies and embody both microscopic photographs and topographic maps. A globule of paint supposedly representing a part of a leaf now also represents and/or embodies simultaneously an atom, a quark, an organelle, a hole and it comprises an event, a planet, a constellation.
Alcala’s stylizations of plants are labyrinthine yet immediate and the figures are contorted and effervescent masses. Her restless curiosity into the nature of her subjects led her to trace roots and follow veins resulting in polyphonic, compressed yet intimate renderings of dissected flora that run the gamut of sensations. The velveteen and glutinous, lustrous and stygian, are nestled in beckoning portals that foreground the complex relations between the internal and external, the hetero- and homogeneous.