Written by David Austin
Karen LaMonte’s work focuses on the idea of beauty. She observes that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but a specific cultural expression equated with truth, goodness, and morality. It is the subject of philosophical musings from Plato and Nietzsche as well as modern writers like Arthur Danto and David Hickey. In it’s embrace or abnegation, the idea of beauty informs all art and architecture, eroticism and evolution.
Inspired by the beauty of night, LaMonte calls her new body of work “Nocturnes”: dark, seductive and sublime. They are absent female forms rising from penumbral garments, figurations of dusk.
With twilight as her muse, LaMonte builds on the legacy of night meditations by Whistler, John Field and Frederick Chopin. Her works explore the
transition from known to unknown, from conscious to unconscious, from reality to dream, and from material to immaterial. Night is transcendent, transfiguring the personal into the universal. When the veil of daylight recedes, the darkness of night opens the infinite space of the universe that surrounds us. Night seduces with an erotic, limitless and unobtainable beauty. These sculptures explore evening’s sublime, the mysterious side of feminine beauty.
Sculpting with drapery, LaMonte gathers darkness around the body using lightly tinted crystal. She envisions her technique as “drawing with dusk,” a sculptural interpretation of tenebrism. It took over two and a half years of experimentation for her to achieve the right color and density of the glass.
Her “Nocturnes” in white bronze glisten like moonlight on the body. They glow like stars. Like celestial bodies, together they become constellations. Those rendered in rusted iron are locked into a process of transformation and imperceptible decay, like waning daylight. They embody transition, as does twilight, positioned between the day and night.
rior to embarking on “Nocturnes”, LaMonte began research on Ukiyo in 2007 during a seven-month fellowship in Kyoto sponsored by the Japan-US Friendship commission. The resulting works are a culmination of her study of the kimono as a cultural icon and her continuing investigation of beauty, seen here through the lens of Japanese aesthetics and material expression.
LaMonte’s vision for the project demanded broadening her material vocabulary. She continued casting glass in the Czech Republic, but also started sculpting ceramic in the Netherlands and Denmark, and forging bronze and iron in Italy.
“The kimono, as vessel to an unseen body”, LaMonte explains,”reflects a cultural affinity for ephemerality and emptiness, expressed as mono no aware, or ‘the pathos of things.’ This attentiveness to impermanence precipitates a melancholic sense of beauty, which I had sought to capture in my previous work. Indeed, despite the radical differences in cultures, I was struck by the kindred sensibility between the kimono and my disembodied European dresses. For me, beauty is ephemeral, it is exquisitely somber – not a celebration of self or individuality, but an acknowledgment of one’s limits that takes comfort in the essential and eternal.”
This body of work, also referred to as “Floating World” will begin a multi-city museum exhibition tour in April 2017, organized by her representative Austin Art Projects located in Palm Desert, California.
Karen LaMonte’s work is included in numerous collections throughout the world, including the Chazen Museum of Art, Corning Museum of Glass, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, De Young Museum of Art, Chrysler Museum of Art, Spencer Museum of Art, Knoxville Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Palm Springs Museum of Art, among others.