Kirsten Everberg: In a Grove consists of a new suite of four paintings and four drawings based on her exploration of the Japanese crime drama Rashomon (1950) by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.
Considered a cinematic classic, Rashomon is both a philosophical examination of the human condition and an artistic and technical masterpiece. Based loosely on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s 1922 short story In a Grove, the film Rashomon uses a fragmented, nonlinear, and visually hallucinatory narrative to show the shifting nature of truth. The tale centers around a rape and murder told from four different and contradictory points of view. Everberg’s four paintings are titled after the four characters: Bandit, Ghost, Wife, and Woodcutter. Says Everberg: “Kurosawa’s film speaks to my interest in memory, multiple histories, and the construction and resonance of space. The shimmering moments of light and the glaring shots into the sun all contribute to an abstraction I relate to in my own work, where distortion of space and time forces questions on the nature of perception.”
Kurosawa’s exploration of subjectivity and authenticity in Rashomon has resonated with Everberg for some time. In 2011, she created a series of works titled Looking for Edendale, based on scenery at the Los Angeles County Arboretum’s Baldwin Lake. The four paintings, with titles such as Burma and The Congo, are named after different geographical locations. They blur natural and cinematic spaces, highlighting how meaning and perception subtly shift depending on how a subject is framed or reframed.
For more than ten years, Everberg has explored these issues of meaning, memory, and history through fluid and strikingly beautiful abstractions that have multiple narrative and painterly frames and layers. The “In a Grove” paintings mark an expansion in her practice, bridging the seriality of the Looking for Edendale paintings and the monochromatic abstractions of a 2008 series of paintings titled My Name is Ivan (After Tarkovsky). She expands on layering visual material and spatial memory by depicting spaces as conflated perceptions and experiences. Kurasawa famously experimented with filming directly into the sky and then incorporating the resulting light flares in Rashomon. Everberg’s “In a Grove” paintings echo this perceptual disjunction, making the location and viewing position mysterious by removing visual cues and dropping the viewer directly into the lushness of a forest scene. In contrast, the four related drawings present the perspective of looking up directly into the dappled sky.
Everberg’s imagery is based on multiple sources. The spaces in her paintings reflect combinations and alterations of fragments of source material, creating artificial spaces that blur truth and fiction. While forest scenes from Rashomon inspired the structure of each work, the specific elements come from a range of different sources, including Rashomon film stills, travel photos, found botanical photographs of Japanese plants (including black pines, cedars, cypresses, cryptomerias, and junipers), early twentieth-century photographs by E. H. Wilson of the Komyoji Temple Forest and the Nara Forest in Japan (where the film was shot), and photographs shot by the artist at local botanical gardens.
Everberg’s knowledge of art history, contemporary painting, and photography also informs her work. She turns to art historical sources, in particular late nineteenth-century painting, to resolve questions of color, light, and structure in her work. For example, she cites Edouard Vuillard’s nuanced patterning and blurring of foreground and background in decorative abstractions; James Abbott McNeil Whistler’s delicate rendering of ethereal landscapes where the horizon is lost in abstraction; and John Singer Sargent’s impressionistic, monochromatic tonality in his psychologically dramatic portraits and landscapes.
Everberg’s remarkable new paintings meld the fluid and sublime pictorial languages of nineteenth-century painting and Kurosawa’s symbolic use of light and sky. With vibrant color and shimmering light, the images shift and change as the viewer moves around the work. Everberg creates an almost hallucinatory environment as the four large paintings, which almost cover the walls, wrap the viewer in an immersive atmosphere. Her lush canvases fuse surface and symbol, representation and abstraction, and subjectivity and authenticity.
Kirsten Everberg’s exhibition is the forty-fifth in the Pomona College Museum of Art’s Project Series, an ongoing program of focused exhibitions of work by Southern California artists. The Project Series has always relied on the good will and generous support of many individuals and groups, in particular longtime supporters the Pasadena Art Alliance. It has been a privilege to work with patrons who so strongly believe in the Project Series, and, even more importantly, in the artists and their work.