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Visitors of Euphoric Recall, Marisa Takal’s exhibition at Night Gallery, were met with a large-scale canvas titled Pro-Holy, I’m Heavy, a brightly colored overture of elements—a cluster of barren trees, washes of pigment, geometric shapes that resemble thought bubbles. Toward the bottom of the canvas, a pink-saturated circle outlined in green contains just the upper, hooked part of a question mark. It’s a delightfully literal flourish that cut through the show’s air of mystery, inviting the viewer into Takal’s associative visual language.
Each of the paintings on view had an inward quality, as if illustrating an unseen, dreamlike space. But the overall upbeat tone—the bright colors and playful gestures—tempered any sense of hermeticism. Unlike so many painting trends of recent years—from the maligned proceduralism of “process-based abstraction” to the stoic interruptions of provisional painting—Takal seems simply unbothered by the pressures of what art is supposed to look like, instead pursuing her own expressive, idiosyncratic point of view. The result is a genuine sense that these works do something, pose questions, and posit possible answers. They evoke both a refreshingly subtle material process of making and an intuitive process of figuring things out.
Spiritually-inflected titles, like Pro-Holy, Faith!, or Higher, Power (all works 2021), reinforce the feeling that, for Takal, painting is an insight-driven practice. This heightened register seems to earnestly ask how art might provide a space of connection, communication, and self-exploration despite its contradictions. In Time and Love, the question—or at least the question mark—returns. The work also features charmingly lumpy trees set against a soft green field of color. The word “today” repeats across the canvas like a New Age mantra, but is offset by the phrase “to-do” in smaller font. The painting suggests that everyday obligations complement and counterbalance more exalted concerns—a pairing of romantic optimism and self-aware humility that ran through the entire show.
The juxtaposition between the practical and the abstract is only more pronounced in Understanding: a blue, vertical limb, à la Barnett Newman, divides the canvas; a gestural bird juts out from a treescape; and three circles act as portholes into different bedroom scenes—tidy, familiar spaces that likewise evoke dreams. Nearby, Crisis of Opportunity combines patterns of soft colors and loose shapes, a humble clothing rack the central feature. Though they collide, the mundane (representational) elements and Takal’s imaginative compositions aren’t in conflict. Instead, rendered smoothly and with apparent ease, the disparate elements join comfortably together in Takal’s work. Her skillfully casual approach compels you to keep looking—not to make logical sense of the work, but rather to enjoy the unlikely sense of resolution.
While the exhibition was emphatically a painting show, a pair of sculptures offered context, as well as a note of quiet humor. The first, Psychological Rolodex, is just that: an old Rolodex on a plinth that mechanically flips through cards labeled with emotional states, like “turbulent” and “tranquil.” Here, interiority again confronted the ordinary—even the banal—as an obsolete office tool cataloged subtle shifts of the psyche. While the work might first read as a sight gag, a riff on a retro piece of office tech, it underscores the sense of free play, as well as the emotional attunement, that so defined the exhibition. This cycling display of feelings also speaks to the tumult of the past year: the words in the Rolodex came from an online questionnaire that Takal circulated at the start of the pandemic, asking respondents to offer “three words for each letter of the alphabet to describe your emotional state”—thus grounding this free-associative, yet neatly organized, collection in a specific and chaotic moment in time.
The other sculpture on view, titled Retrospective, was a glass display case that housed a few paint-stained T-shirts and sweats. It’s another literal gesture: one can assume that the items are artifacts from the making of the paintings on view, though the garments are also the material traces of a year spent indoors, here elevated somewhat cheekily to the status of art. The paint-stained garments also return to the idea of painting as a process—of making, of discovery—that pervaded the show. Throughout Euphoric Recall, there was a sense of low-key reverence for painting as a type of formal and emotional inquiry, the canvas as a space for the artist to consider both practical and ethereal concerns. Takal paired this aesthetic optimism with a keen awareness of art as a part of, rather than beyond, everyday life.
Nick Earhart is a writer based in Pasadena. He is at work on a dissertation about art and activism along the Los Angeles River. He also has a poetry-comics chapbook, titled Four Places, coming out this fall on Lillet Press.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 25.