Merion Estes: Unnatural Disasters
September 30, 2020 — January 6, 2019
Unnatural Disasters presents a core sampling of works created over the last two decades by Los Angeles-based artist Merion Estes. Estes’s dazzling, and often politically motivated, art grew out of her work in the feminist art movement associated with L.A.’s iconic Woman’s Building and her involvement in the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s and ‘80s, a loose-knit group of East and West Coasts artists who were countering the stark aesthetic legacy of Minimalism with heavy ornamentation. Her body of mixed-media work comprises densely decorative large-format collaged paintings on mass-produced printed fabrics, as well as smaller found-object sculptures.
Simultaneously beautiful and disturbing, Estes’s stunning multi-layered paintings explore the devastation caused by modern-day environmental crises—such as global warming, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown—and their lasting impact on the world’s unique habitats. Estes provocatively juxtaposes pure visual pleasure with an earnest cautionary message about how humanity’s stewardship of nature—or negligence of it—has grim, even calamitous, consequences for the future of the world.
Some of Estes’s imagery shows quite specific references—such as her depiction of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima—while other imagery is more generalized, depicting trees and flowers, land and marine animals, and cityscapes, all of which are imperiled by the effects of climate change, pollution, and habitat disruption. While Estes warns us of our abuse of nature, she also creates joyous celebrations of the Earth’s natural beauty, wonders, and myriad interdependent lifeforms. Estes offers an exuberant expression of our collective dependence upon and love of our natural world, together with a deep appeal for a worldwide response to preserve the place where we all live.
Curator: Howard N. Fox
This exhibition is supported by the Antonia and Vladimer Kulaev Cultural Heritage Fund; Los Angeles County Arts Commission; Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles; and the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation.
Lead image: Merion Estes, Toxic Depths, 2004. Fabric collage, acrylic paint on printed fabric, 80 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Matt Kazmer.