Malibu artist brings earth to stars

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Cobalt blue rocks, actually solid pigment, are featured in "AOR," an exhibit by Malibu resident Lita Albuquerque. Photos of artwork by Brian Forrest, courtesy of Pepperdine University

Lita Albuquerques’ exhibit at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, entitled “AOR,” explores the Hermetic axiom “As Above, So Below,” which traces the elemental and philosophical relationships between the terrestrial and the celestial.

By Pam Linn / Staff Writer

A week before the opening of Lita Albuquerque’s new exhibition, spattered drop cloths still cover portions of the Weisman Museum of Art floor, like so many Jackson Pollock rejects. Director Michael Zakian is working with the artist and technicians on lighting for the main gallery. It’s tricky. The largest wall of the museum, 55 feet wide by 24 feet high, is now black as the night sky, with stars drawn in chalkboard paint, pastel and gold leaf. Albuquerque said she worked with astronomer Simon Balm to create this map of the sky in the Southern Hemisphere above the geographical South Pole. Though dimly lit, it is breathtaking in scope.

Rocks of various shapes and composition are strategically placed on the floor to align with the positions of the stars. Most still await coats of powdered pigment (the artist’s signature image), a color code mark on each. String lines are affixed to the floor marking their places.

Zakian and Albuquerque are making decisions on the quality of different lights. Even with all the activity, the effect is magical.

Albuquerque is calm, taking time to explain the exhibit title, “AOR,” which comes from an Egyptian hieroglyphic meaning “magical light” or “electricity.” The idea explores the Hermetic axiom “As Above, So Below,” which traces the elemental and philosophical relationships between the terrestrial and the celestial.

The artist said viewers may decide whether the earth has been brought to the stars, or the stars to the earth.

“It’s like a three dimensional map,” she said of the project she’s worked on nonstop since May.

She and Balm will work together again on a project at the South and the North Poles.

“It will be a star alignment on the ice with reflective discs,” Albuquerque said.

In the center of the adjoining gallery two cobalt blue rocks, actually solid pigment, await their pedestals. A group of portal-like paintings of dry red pigment blown onto black canvas, images resembling solar flares or erupting magma, have yet to be hung. A companion series of five vertical blue paintings, titled “Bowshock,” refers to an astronomical term describing the leading edge of density waves at the birth of stars.

Together, these paintings underscore the powerful forces at work within the universe.

The videos “Starkeeper” and “Beekeeper,” created in collaboration with artists Jon Beasley and Chandler McWilliams, will be projected in the upstairs gallery. They provide the key metaphor of the exhibition. These poetic images of guardians explore the interchangeability of light and matter and their relationship to life.

Albuquerque said she comes from the ’70s Southern California Light and Space Movement.

“The people I learned a lot from were part of that, making space apparent to the viewer. It’s very [Far] Eastern in a way,” she said.

“Before that there was the Earth Art Movement where artists were dealing directly in the landscape, huge installations moving earth around with bulldozers, making architectural space as opposed to more traditional things like paintings on the walls.”

She said she loves working outdoors, especially out in the desert on dry lakebeds.

“If one placed an object on it, it would be like a Dali painting, surrealist, because there’s nothing competing with it. It’s a minimalist space almost like a blank canvas.”

Albuquerque grew up in North Africa, her mother a Tunisian playwright, her grandmother a singer of classical Arabic music who had her own orchestra and recorded in Vienna in the ’20s. Her father was a diamond dealer in Paris. She developed a feel for the land among the rocks and ruins of Carthage, she said.

She was 13 when she came with her mother to the U.S.

Living in Malibu on a bluff overlooking the ocean, she said she became very sensitized to nature and to light shifts.

“I started doing pieces that would bring the viewer a relationship to the environment, the sky, the horizon, sun and moon.”

The concept came into focus in 1993, she said, while meditating and running on Westward Beach.

“It just came to me while I was running. Since then it’s become even more complex. It puts you in time and space in the cosmos. I’ve dedicated my work to that, so the viewer gets a little inkling of that, bringing the stars down to the earth or the earth to the stars.”

A reception to meet the artist will take place at Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 21. The exhibit runs through March 26.