MAR­GARET MUNZ-LOSCH, ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Art -

Af­ter view­ing Mar­garet Mun­zLosch’s ex­hi­bi­tion “Beauty and the Beast,” at L Ross Gallery through Nov. 30, a lo­cal artist posted to his blog: “I don’t know what to make of it.”

The blog­ger — and any­one else — could be ex­cused for think­ing the same, be­cause this is a show whose work be­comes deeper, more lay­ered and more provoca­tive the longer one looks, while at first glance it seems su­per­fi­cially fem­i­nine.

But ter - f lies and cute lit­tle an­i­mals!

A girl hold­ing a cat!

A girl wear­ing cup­cakes!

Look more closely, though, and the viewer is plunged into a world where sweet­ness be­comes men­ace, and those cute lit­tle an­i­mals mir­ror the greed and reck­less­ness of their hu­man coun­ter­parts.

Munz-Losch is from Los Angeles but has lived in Somerville, Tenn., for the past 15 years. We won’t com­ment on the cul­ture shock that must have been the re­sult of that mi­gra­tion, but liv­ing in a small South­ern town ob­vi­ously has not dulled the edge of the artist’s mor­dant vi­sion or her as­ton­ish­ing crafts­man­ship.

“O but a man’s reach ex­ceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for,” lamented An­drea del Sarto in Brown­ing’s poem of that name, but, boy, if I were an artist and gazed long enough at Mun­zLosch’s ef­forts in col­ored pen­cil and wa­ter­color draw­ings or acrylic and col­ored pen­cil paint­ings, I might vow never to pick up pen­cil or brush again. At L Ross Gallery, 5040 Sanderlin, Suite 104, through Nov. 30. Call 901-767-2200.

At the ser­vice of Munz-Losch’s im­pec­ca­ble “grasp,” as del Sarto terms the hand’s abil­i­ties, lies a “reach” into are­nas of psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional in­sight and con­tention that in­duces equal laughs and shivers in their strange­ness and acute­ness. No doubt that Munz-Losch’s work aligns with the Sur­re­al­ist vein of dream­like im­agery and vivid and bizarre jux­ta­po­si­tions, and the fig­ure who most read­ily came to my mind while I looked at “Beauty and the Beast” was the Amer­i­can Dorothea Tan­ning (1910-2012), who was a mem­ber of the Sur­re­al­ist circle’s in­ner sanc­tum — she was mar­ried to the Ger­man Sur­re­al­ist Max Ernst — but who de­vel­oped her own vo­cab­u­lary of im­agery that delved deeply and darkly into the fe­male un­con­scious.

“Beauty and the Beast” falls into two seg­ments, a dozen fairly small col­ored pen­cil and wa­ter­color pen­cil pieces on pa­per, these pri­mar­ily fea­tur­ing de­cep­tively sim­ple sto­ry­book-like an­i­mal mo­tifs, like de­mented Beatrix Pot­ter — in “The Stel­lif­er­ous Era,” storks roast Peeps sug­ary con­fec- tions over an open fire — and four acrylic and col­ored pen­cil works on panel, two of which, “Early Bird” and “Pink — Prêt-à-Porter,” are quite large.

It’s “Pink,” a par­ody of Gains­bor­ough’s “Pink Girl” por­trait, that fea­tures the big-eyed, fetch­ing girl wear­ing a frock made of pink cup­cakes, a con­junc­tion of win­some­ness, mas­sive amounts of su­gar and ed­i­bil­ity that in­duces a dis­tinct feel­ing of queasi­ness.

In “Black Cat” (30 by 30 inches) a sim­i­lar beau­ti­ful large-eyed girl — us­ing girl pur­posely; these are pre-ado­les­cent — holds a black cat in front of her naked chest; her hair is tied up in two top­knots. So far, so good. Peer­ing closer, we per­ceive that the in­ter­est­ing tex­ture of the girl’s hair oc­curs be­cause it’s not hair but a mass of blue­bot­tle flies; her skin is com­posed of seething mag­gots, a few de­picted with tiny black dots of eyes. Could you call to mind a more ex­plicit uni­fi­ca­tion of in­no­cence, bad luck, beauty and mor­tal­ity in one ex­tra­or­di­nary im­age?

“Beauty and the Beast” be­comes “Beauty IS the Beast.”

In “Black Cat,” the girl’s hair is made of flies; her skin is a mass of mag­gots.

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