in the exhibition NOW AND THEN, CMAY GALLERY Los Angeles

November 14-December 18, 2021

Lies Kraal : what painting does to reality

and words, how real are they?


The sound of a day in a hidden garden surrounded by city life can be recorded: but the real sound is lost, in no way can it be reproduced. Who’s the listener? Where? Still or in movement? The real sound is the imaginary activity shared by one or more living persons and a density of invisible waves hitting each other in the air before they reach -some of them- the nerves in the ears, vessels to the brain. I can’t avoid the doubt that our trust in knowledge as a way to the truth is mainly hoping to access, like a poet says, “the only access to true ease, /the deep comfort of the world and fate.”

Lies Kraal kept seven large pantings made in 1989 in her studio, never shared them with the public until now. Let’s avoid the mystery. It’s a fact and a surprise. On linen, vertical on the walls, they are painted images of the floors of seven different art galleries in their 1989 temporary space. Some galleries moved, others disappeared, fragile and fleeting like the art they embraced, like the lives of visitors, owners and workers.

Yes, we go back in time in front of them, not able to see the reality of each place because the solid nature of the floors has been violated by painting. Not at all reproductions, these images are portraits. Layers of ghostly presences: steps, flying eyes, a long range of feelings if they were artists, gallerists, buyers or curious visitors or writers hunting for juicy food to fill their pages. First of all Lies and Judi’s experience. Judi is Lies’ devoted companion. Judi Russell, artist. 

Seven paintings who are not monochromes, and they are alive. They don’t want to be monuments for a world oblivious to yesterday or cynical toward tomorrow, not to mention skipping today. They make me think of sails slowly navigating through time. Breezes pushes them in our lives with a gentleness that is not easy, and a beautiful nostalgia for Turner. Lies made herself the storyteller of life details under-estimated, forgotten, diluted in conventional words. What appears is the painted breathing of the places, as if ironic abstractions could undo the stiffness of floors, bring up a light memory of geometrical grids by evoking, invoking, the atmospheric aura of each room as it was more than thirty years ago. Portraits become interiors; for some of us now it’s a pleasure to return, knowing without illusion we step into a mental journey scattered with images, also of artworks sometimes placed into the floors.

Once painted, each space moves out from chronological frames, becomes the intemporal image of the artist’s perception. Exactly like the monochromes: reality is in them, and it’s intangible, forever elusive. See for yourself, I accept my ambiguity.

A few notes by Lies and Judi go with the paintings. They are all 54 x 52 in, all made in 1989, acrylic and cement on unstretched linen.
Burnett Miller      What a fabulous gallery this was. He introduced so many important international artists to Los Angeles. Very intense, yet gentle man. Always made us feel comfortable about our naiveté, having just moved here from Santa Cruz. One day when we walked in to the gallery on La Brea, Ulay and Marina Abramovic were sitting there back to back with their hair braided together. He and us loved food and talking about it. One time he turned us on to getting uni (sea urchin) fresh off the boat in Santa Barbara. We got a whole bag full of live ones for around $10. More than we could eat at once. Loved him for that experience. 
Shoshana Wayne      This is from their gallery on 5th in Santa Monica, before  she and her husband became the developers of Bergamot Station. They had David Pagel as a receptionist at the front desk. I remember his red frame glasses in particular... he was a rebel. Among always very interesting, provocative artists, in the back room they once showed some very strange videos from an Austrian performance group… I think it was Hermann Nitsch and company. 
Margo Leavin     A very brash, yet classy woman who had a good pulse on the contemporary art scene… local, national and international. I learned a lot about art looking at her shows. One time I was invited to the backroom for something and I was overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette smoke. I had to comment on it... it was: oh yeah, Margo smokes. I imagine she must have lived so long because of her passion for art. I think she was great. Her floor was pristine.
Luhring/Augustine/Hetzler       On 4th Street in Santa Monica, another nice surprise bringing New York and international artists to Los Angeles. One time we saw Jeff Koons’ provocative paintings of he and his porn-star wife, Cicciolina.
Richard Bennett On La Brea       Richard Heller and Bennett Roberts had the gallery together. They were young and fresh. Smart. Their floor was like them: high contrast that works together very nicely. Now they both have their own galleries here in Los Angeles. 
Ace      This floor was somewhere in this vast, beautiful gallery. There were so many nooks and crannies full of surprises and so many rooms on such a grand scale. Doug Christmas did a remarkable job of directing many great exhibitions here. Kudos to him for using that space so beautifully. 
Santa Monica Museum of Art      Tom Rhoads was the director of this new venue on Main Street in Santa Monica. In an old 1908 ice storage facility he had exhibitions of fresh new and emerging artists, including a lot of conceptual art that was kind of new for Los Angeles. The first show was while the building was still under renovation. It was by David Bunn and had ramps up to telescopes that focused on various spots he found beautiful in the patina of the old construction. The floors had lots of fertile material for my series, so it was hard to pick a spot.

Twenty years ago I wrote a text about Lies Kraal’s monochromes. I include part of it below without changing a word, yet I need to rethink the way I objectified her self expression, as a separate thing that doesn’t intrude into the smooth perfection of the monochromes. That’s unreal, simply impossible. Lies’ art renews our world in every piece, her life filters light and colors so well that new colors appear, reminding us of flowers or rocks, never being them. In the end, they are human, they are her colors. Reproduction is impossible. The following images are imperfect suggestions of the real pieces.

Lies Kraal, 16-3, 2016 Acrylic on hardboard panels, 15 x 30in (diptych)
Lies Kraal, 17-2, 2017 Acrylic on hardboard panels 17 x 34in (diptych)

From the year 2000, in a catalogue with a white cover:

And one cannot help feeling looked at by the paintings as if they were impenetrable presence, compressed volumes underneath a smooth, regular surface that doesn’t speak a human language — silence of the matter is disconnected from any psychological temptation.

“Leaving no trace”: Kraal’s touch on the canvas is made with hundreds of layers, always the same color which is made of many, it doesn’t matter in the end it looks monochrome, it’s impure dominance of one color over the others. The physical impression of a thickness has the same undetermined quality of the unwritten book we hold inside, a transparent page after another, on which a tint is put by marks slightly impressed in our mind by the transient perception of things around us; colors and shapes not really needing to be sewed in names, so movable is the quality of attention one turns on them, usually thinking of something else.

Thickness one grasps in these paintings is an absorbing power, endless giving and receiving between the artists and her materials, the art piece and its environment. Each painting an impersonal presence — the ultimate purpose– rather than the tool for the artist to reveal her own self. Yet it is also an individual form becoming a painting through a sacred dance that doesn’t take from humans any anthropomorphic similitude or naturalistic analogies.

Today, my wish is to have all the seven painted floors around me, in one room, a table in the middle with friends, and a moment of ease as Wallace Stevens wrote it:

An ease in which to live a moment’s life,

The moment of live’s love and fortune,

Free from everything else, free above all from thought.

It would have been like lighting a candle, 

Like leaning on the table, shading one’s eyes,

And hearing a tale one wanted intensely to hear,

As if we were all seated together again

And one of us spoke and all of us believed

What we heard and the light, though little, was enough.

WALLACE STEVENS, A letter from   Opus Posthumous, 1957

I am happy to add a short text about Lies Kraal’s paintings I just received by e-mail. It comes from Alberto Albertini, my 94 years old uncle (my father’s brother, son of Oreste Albertini, painter), a frequent contributor to this blog . He wrote it only looking at the paintings, without reading my text. I found interesting that he wrote it without knowing about the floors, only considering the artworks as paintings.


Se Fontana con lo squarcio nello spazio bidimensionale tradiva l’inquietudine di andare oltre, Lies, al contrario dice il suo equilibrio sereno di fronte alla tela: lo spazio è l’essenza dello spazio, sereno, implacabile nel suo essere fermo e sicuro come una pietra: l’equilibrio oltre il quale è inutile cercare. Vuoi del bianco, vuoi nel colore. E nemmeno crolla l’ansia nel coprire gli spazi con strascicati stati di pensiero indefinito ma brulicante nell’intimo, sia che sia pacatamente distribuito senza ingiustizia, sia che un doloroso stracico lasci traccia della sua stanchezza. Come se un nuovo processore fosse riuscito a stendere sulla superficie il protocollo della sua esistenza.


While Fontana, tearing apart the two-dimensional surface, revealed his desire to go beyond,  Lies on the contrary reveals her serene balance in front of the canvas. Space is the essence of space, calm and implacable, showing the same stillness and certainty of the stones: a balance beyond which it is useless to search.  Either white or in color.  And anxiety doesn’t even crash as the surface keeps being scuffed with layers of undefined, and yet swarming thoughts: either peacefully distributed without injustice, or moved by the remnants of something painful leaving trace of its weariness. As if a new processor had been able to lay out on the surface the protocol of its own existence.