Harper’s is pleased to announce Alive, Lumin Wakoa’s first solo presentation at the gallery. With vibrant palettes and painterly surfaces, Wakoa’s works slip in and out of abstraction, evoking the richness of nature and time. The exhibition opens at Harper’s Apartment on Wednesday, November 2, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist.
Somewhere in each of Wakoa’s latest paintings lie paths for the eye to follow, paths that wind through the composition like moments of respite from the intensity of adjacent brushwork or patches of color. Look, for instance, at the craggy stream bisecting one skull’s hemisphere in Two Skulls. This line traverses the white strip of paint comprising its nasal bone, then continues downward as dividing contour before washing—melting, even, now mixed with white—into the leftward sweep of the tabletop below. In Knockouts in Full Bloom, we move diagonally from a dark patch behind the pink flower at the upper left onto teal dabs made with a springy brush arrayed as stepping stones. These, in turn, lead to a dark V at the canvas’s compositional center, swinging the eye back upward, or else resume onward to a rivulet of electric blue. We know what we are looking at in Wakoa’s paintings—a rosebush, a skeleton—yet the effect is not the depiction of concrete reality. Instead, we sense the gentle power of a coursing circulation, like cracks in the veneer of reality that hold the potential to yield deeper truths.
Wakoa’s paintings impart a sense of life, energy, and time distinct from those of their making—one that extends beyond the four edges of the canvas and its corresponding patch of referents in the lived world to encompass, say, a bird’s swoop or a cloud’s drift above. At first, this fluid, almost primal life force of Wakoa’s mark-by-mark worlds and her apparent thematic of death seem in tension. Yet when taken together, we come to see that her blooms and bones concern themselves with those fundamental elements like light or nutrients that give rise to the stuff of painting (and of life) in the first place, and to the temporalities of attendant growth cycles, measured in seasons or in lifetimes. Over seven or so painting sessions, Early Morning Roses (blue) records the lowest blossom’s wax and wane, the translation of its appearance piled in each instance atop what came before, all overlaid with weeping washes of white. What is time, after all? Wakoa’s work affirms the variations of time’s pace, perhaps especially in those moments when life’s sensate complexity exceeds the human capacity to perceive its surroundings.
As a child, Wakoa often sat with her father on the front porch of their home in northern Florida. “Let’s see,” her dad would say, inaugurating a meditative exercise in looking, the goal of which was to unname the whole world. In this pre-reflexive state before we identify the things we see, everything appears to merge with everything else, yielding a vibrating mass of color and contour. This method of deconstructive looking might be Wakoa’s first training as an artist, deployed as the current work’s tenuous hold on observed nature. At Harper’s, Wakoa presents some of the largest canvases she has made since her 2010 dwelling paintings. At four by five feet, their enlarged surface area engulfs her field of vision in a world of marks more so than in the recent past. We are in the realm of Joan Mitchell and Paul Cézanne, who did not want to separate the stable things we see from the shifting way in which they appear. Though Wakoa paints from the scene before her, en plein air (in the case of the rose bushes) or in the studio (in the case of the skeletons), the temporalized fabric of objects and the landscapes that the finished works inhabit suggests bodily apprehension beyond optical sight. Her works record the smooth touch of a flower petal, the crisp snap of Maine air, or in In the Headlights, the warmth of a neon green glow diffused across a stippled ground and played against the tree’s pluming foliage. Like snowflakes, ocean waves, and, indeed, roses—or the structure of any living thing—Wakoa’s brushstrokes are infinitely repeatable but never the same, subjective records of an irretrievable past. They are hymns to the fundamental uncertainties of time and perception, to losing oneself in the onrush of sensation without ever being at rest.
Written by Elizabeth Buhe
Lumin Wakoa (b. 1981, Ashland City, TN) received a BFA from the University of Florida in 2005, and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 2010. Her work has been the subject of solo and two-person presentations at Abattoir Gallery, Cleveland (2022); Deanna Evans Projects, Brooklyn (2021 and 2018); George Gallery, Brooklyn (2019); Present Company, Brooklyn (2017); and Providence College, Providence (2013). Most recently, Wakoa has participated in group exhibitions at Harper’s, East Hampton and Los Angeles (2022 and 2021); Gaa Gallery, Provincetown (2022); Andrea Festa Fine Art, Rome (2022); Hesse Flatow, New York (2021); Abattoir Gallery, Cleveland (2021); and James Fuentes, online (2020). Reviews of her work have appeared in Artnet, Brooklyn Rail, and Vogue, among other publications. Wakoa lives and works in New York; she is represented by Harper’s.