Oth­er­worldly gar­den

Los Angeles Times - - ARTS & BOOKS - By David Pagel cal­en­dar@la­times.com

Many see flow­ers as the most beau­ti­ful things on the planet, but they were not beau­ti­ful enough for Anna Zemánková (1908-1986), who spent the lat­ter half of her life in the Czech city of Prague de­sign­ing blooms more gor­geous than the real thing. They’re on dis­play through July 9 at the Good Luck Gallery in Chi­na­town in an ex­hi­bi­tion that’s not to be missed.

Zemánková’s flow­ers look like they come from another planet — one much lusher and more lux­u­ri­ous than our own. Their col­ors blaze with in­ten­sity. Their sil­hou­ettes are sexy, the right mix of cur­va­ceous grace and an­gled mus­cu­lar­ity. Their forms are ex­tra­or­di­nary: No two re­sem­ble each other, and many seem to have as much in com­mon with bum­ble bees, coral reefs and space­ships — as well as jel­ly­fish, can­can dancers and neu­ral net­works — as they do with plant life. A tinge of menace em­anates from the best ones, their spiky pro­tu­ber­ances, wig­gly ten­drils and star­burst-style blos­soms evok­ing sci-fi weaponry and ear-split­ting ex­plo­sions.

The two-dozen daz­zlers in Zemánková’s first ex­hi­bi­tion in Cal­i­for­nia fall into three groups. The first are the most re­strained: 11 pas­tel and ink draw­ings that could be close-ups of ex­otic plants but are too fan­ci­ful for that.

The sec­ond group leaves Re­al­ism be­hind for no-holds-barred ar­ti­fice. In th­ese four works on pa­per, the big­gest of which mea­sure 3 feet by 2 feet, Zemánková has added em­broi­dery to her reper­toire, en­hanc­ing her plants with greater mass and tac­til­ity. Rhine­stones and beads add to the fun, dress­ing her petals, stems and leaves in cos­tumes that should seem out­landish but aren’t.

The third group is the strangest. To make nine pieces, Zemánková painted exquisitely de­tailed flow­er­ing plants on swathes of satin. She then cut out the frag­ile forms, many of which are made up of lacy net­works not much wider that a few strands of hair. Fi­nally, she glued the satin cutouts to small sheets of pa­per, adding ink flour­ishes to dress them up fur­ther. The com­bi­na­tion of del­i­cate drawn lines and un­rav­el­ing threads of satin is ex­quis­ite.

In an age over­run by hy­per­bole, it seems pre­pos­ter­ous to call pic­tures of flow­ers sub­lime. But Zemánková’s are.

Pho­to­graphs from Good Luck Gallery

ANNA ZEMÁNKOVÁ’S first ex­hi­bi­tion in Cal­i­for­nia takes place in Chi­na­town and fea­tures bright draw­ings and em­broi­dered works.

THE LATE ARTIST used satin to cre­ate del­i­cate col­lages.

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