Inspired by her interest in the collapse of the native honey bee colonies, Elena Horowitz-Brookes’ solo exhibit at Ventura College’s site in Santa Paula features more than a dozen paintings in acrylic and several drawings in markers.
Neither abstract nor figurative, “End of Bees” depicts an imaginary world inhabited by copious amounts of vibrant and fertile life forms. Each painting is a primal garden teeming with buoyant organisms and plantlike formations.
A Los Angeles native, Horowitz-Brookes currently lives in Ventura where she tends to her garden and fruit trees. She noticed the slow disappearance of bees and began informing herself on the subject. Ironically, she had begun painting “Garden of Disquieting Dreams” (pictured) several years before becoming acquainted with the vanishing bee colonies. She says she subconsciously knew that the painting would eventually catalyze this body of work.
The series is deeply intangible and ephemeral, as if one were witnessing the artist’s fabricated jungly world at its highest peak of ripeness, just before its inevitable wane. All the compositions are bursting with life — the flowerlike shapes grow rampant and wild, the ova are plentiful and exuberant, the leaves gyrate organically, and the striped teardrop shapes spit and spew vigorously, sometimes violently, coating the cornucopia of sublime elements within each painting with a liquid substance.
Horowitz-Brookes’ preference for “scumbling,” a painting technique that involves dragging a semi-opaque layer of paint over another layer of darker paint so that some of the paint beneath shows, results in accentuated brush marks and a beautiful opalescent luster. On the level of content, it grants her work multiple layers of complexity.
Needless to say, the crux of the show is the repeating teardrop shape, with a globular form on one end and tapering to a point on the other. On the bulbous end, there is an orifice out of which it oozes and squirts. The images populate almost every one of Horowitz-Brookes’ works. They wear beelike stripes and vary in size, girth, color and vigor. Some are heavy with a readiness to burst, and some are slightly glossy, which enhances their erotic nature. One might even feel a bit naughty looking at them.
The UCSB graduate recently outgrew her space at the Bell Arts Factory, where she rented a studio for four years, and moved into a larger space in midtown Ventura where she can accommodate her growing canvases. While working at the Bell Arts Factory, she was approached by Sabrina Canola, administrative assistant and curator at Ventura College in Santa Paula, and offered the chance to exhibit on that site.
Among the most charming works are several framed pieces that look like early drafts for future paintings. Done on graffiti paper, they are gestural studies of flowers and common shapes. “These are exercises which don’t allow a lot of leeway,” explains the artist, “because they are done in permanent marker.” Early studies tend to be very fluid and fresh because the artist does not usually intend to show them. These are no different; and Horowitz-Brookes’ choice to display them only adds to their appeal.
Unrelated to her series but included in the show are several of Horowitz-Brookes’ poems. With titles such as “Picasso’s Palm” and “Immortal Fever,” the poems demonstrate the artist’s aptitude for gripping storytelling and painterly writing. Surprisingly, each piece of reading segues nicely onto a painting. Horowitz-Brookes is currently writing a novel and is an active blogger.
Blatantly fecund, primal and inevitably erotic, “End of Bees” is more like the story of the birds and the bees. Horowitz-Brookes creates a strong body of work that conveys her interest in depth and space, and reveals a painterly style that is fresh and self-assured.