From blossoming hydrangeas to backyard chickens, artist Lisa McCutcheon doesn’t shy away from a hands-on approach to the natural world. However, hidden in the folds of her delicately crafted exhibition “Bloom,” these biological renderings may go unnoticed at first glance. Now showing at San Francisco’s Dolby Chadwick Gallery, “Bloom” is a multimedia exploration of movement, abstractifying audiences’ understandings of motion with an expert eye for shadow, texture and negative space.
Her formal approach is anything but ordinary: Combining photography, paint, semitransparent mylar and hand drawings, McCutcheon’s innovative convergence of techniques mirrors the complex array of natural forces conveyed in her collection. Layering these mediums on top of one another, McCutcheon forms cohesive collages with dimensions that typically sit around 30 by 30 inches or 50 by 50 inches. Her unconventional constructions contrast sleek white backdrops to echo an uncanny kind of symbiosis — her complex configurations add depth to their simple surroundings, which, in turn, provide purpose to the elaborate collages with which they share a canvas. With an artistic style that is simultaneously maximalist and minimalist, McCutcheon invites each aesthetic to complement the other with equal parts dynamism and tranquility.
Divided into subseries with subtle yet crucial distinctions, McCutcheon’s collection plays on nuanced scientific categorizations of flora and fauna. Just as a child may have trouble differentiating daisy from daffodil, for example, an unobservant eye may not catch the difference between McCutcheon’s “Tumble” series and her “Bundle” series. However, as audiences sit with McCutcheon’s work, the uniqueness of each series is brought to the forefront, highlighting the patience required to observe earth’s quiet quotidian occurrences.
The aforementioned “Tumble” series features a reoccurring central swirling shape, which is accompanied by smaller versions of the shape that pitter about the remainder of the canvas. With each medium forming an intricate layer that depicts shadows in just the right places, these crumpled collections of geological and biological formations resemble rocks that break apart and tumble down a hill. With its ripe mixture of sage green and carnation pink, “Tumble Series 1” is an undeniable showstopper. While other pieces involve indistinct color palettes, this masterpiece effectively incorporates two of plant life’s most prominent pigments without seeming generic.
Complementing the “Tumble” series with taste and elegance, “Molt Series 4” represents shedding feathers, highlighting the vast array of avenues for similarity and difference within nature’s cycles of fragmentation. Unlike the remainder of the collection’s uniform use of singular shapes, the pieces of poultry feathers in “Molt Series 4” sprawl across the canvas, offering diversity and fluidity to the compilation. Additionally, the unity between works in the “Overgrowth” series is especially enchanting — these pieces’ abstract subjects are larger than any others, skillfully supplementing shadows to each grand layer.
Throughout her exhibition, McCutcheon masterfully blurs the line between stillness and movement, adding visual and kinetic layers to the phrase “change is the only constant.” This dichotomy between stasis and disequilibrium is further reflected in her series’ titles — for example, “Swirl” can serve as both a noun and a verb, acting as an emblem of completeness and motion. McCutcheon’s blend of seemingly opposite concepts is congenial rather than contradictory, gracefully illustrating the optical harmonics of nature. “Root” is another series with a title that can serve as both noun and verb, reflecting the biological phenomenon wherein, despite serving as plants’ integral anchors, roots are rife with life, growth and journey.
Incorporating elements of both serenity and vitality, Lisa McCutcheon’s “Bloom” emphasizes the kinship between biological and geological beings and processes. Her observant exhibition invites onlookers to not only stop and smell the roses, but to take photos of the roses, cut the photos out, doodle on them for a few minutes, take some more photos at different times of day, convert them onto semi-transparent mylar and, finally, paste them together in a manner that reflects the subtle beauty of the natural world.