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Art review: Margaret Nielsen at Samuel Freeman

May 22, 2011 | 12:00 pm

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Although her career predates Pop Surrealism by several decades, painter Margaret Nielsen operates in a similar vein, bending Old Master techniques to decidedly dream-like purposes. With works dating from the 1970s to the present, her current exhibition at Samuel Freeman traces an idiosyncratic path.

Most delightful are ink and colored pencil drawings from the 1970s that juxtapose bland modern interiors with the impertinence and mystery of nature. Executed in pointellist accretions of tiny black dots, they play with the visual tropes of landscape, decoration and photography. One drawing, above, features two framed pictures of domestic interiors, turned toward each other. A carpet with a vegetal pattern in the picture on the left playfully sprouts a vine that exceeds its frame and curls over into the picture on the right, blending into similarly patterned drapes. The vitality of nature exceeds efforts to capture it as home décor, literally bursting out of the frame; yet paradoxically, it’s still contained by Nielsen’s breezy, almost cartoon-like drawing.

Nielsen204In later years, however, these light, whimsical tableaux give way to more ponderous oil paintings. There are some lovely moments — a hand holding a flaming match next to a small golden bird in mid-flight, an enigmatic skeleton of a Dodo done in a brushy, burnished sepia — but more often the imagery shades into the sentimental or the cliché: a snake wrapped around a spinal column, a heart entwined in vines. There’s something of Frida Kahlo in these small, lovingly executed images, but they lack the startling freshness of her vision, failing to shock or surprise.

-- Sharon Mizota

Samuel Freeman, 2525 Michigan Ave., Suite B7, Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through June 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.samuelfreeman.com

Photos, from top:  "Untitled," 1974; Margaret Nielsen, "The Dodo," 2011. Credit:  Samuel Freeman. 

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