Standing in the center of the Kirsten Everberg exhibition In a Grove at the Pomona College Museum of Art, you begin to feel as if you have fallen into another realm. On all four walls of the small gallery space, large paintings of a grayish forest lock you into their mysterious luminosity. Step closer, and you discover that all those delicate leaves and branches are, in actuality, intertwining drops, rivers, and puddles of enamel.
Everberg’s unusual technique, in which she pours enamel onto prepared horizontal panels, draws attention to the nature of perception, since the painting can be viewed both as a scene and as an abstraction. Throughout her body of work, Everberg has engaged with such questions of perception, subjectivity, and memory. In this particular collection, she explored these themes through a film that deals with similar concerns: Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon.
“Kurosawa’s film speaks to my interest in memory, multiple histories, and the construction and resonance of space,” Everberg said, as reported in the exhibition catalog. “The shimmering moments of light and the glaring shots into the sun all contribute to an abstraction I relate to in my own work, where distortion of space and time forces questions on the nature of perception.”
Rashomon has been considered a classic of contemporary film and is particularly well known for Kurosawa’s examination of memory and truth as well as his innovative filming techniques.
“Kurosawa was one of the first people to film … into the sun and with the sun, creating these really dappled light effects in the film,” said Pomona Museum of Art Senior Curator Rebecca McGrew. “[Everberg] was replicating that with her interest in light, and the large paintings are about looking through the forest and seeing light through trees.”
The four large paintings are named after the four central characters in the film (Bandit, Ghost, Wife, and Woodcutter), each of whom tells a different perspective on a murder and rape that occurred in a forest. Similarly, each painting seems to present a different view of the same luminous forest.
“Rashomon has a fragmented, nonlinear, and visually hallucinatory narrative that shows the shifting nature of truth,” McGrew wrote in the exhibition catalog.
This instability is clearly reflected in the role perception plays in Everberg’s similar-but-different, both-abstract-and-landscape paintings.
The exhibition also includes four smaller paintings located at the opening of the gallery. They are similarly named after characters in Rashomon (Witness, Thief, Noblewoman, and Samurai), but they have different qualities of light than those of the larger pieces, which McGrew describes as looking up “into sky” rather than “through trees.”
McGrew, who curated the exhibition, had been a fan of Everberg for a long time before she invited the artist to hold a show at Pomona as the 45th installment of the Project Series. The series, founded by McGrew in 1999, is dedicated to showing contemporary artists from Southern California.
“Part of my job as a curator is to go and visit galleries, visit artists’ studios, try and see who is doing interesting work that I’d want to support,” McGrew said. “I’ve been following her work for a few years and finally was able [to invite her].”
Once Everberg was invited to do an exhibition, the artist was able to develop and create a collection specifically for the gallery space, and she painted the four large pieces with the Pomona College Museum of Art in mind. The four smaller paintings were not originally created as part of the exhibition but were also included later because of their complementary pairing with the four larger pieces.
“Almost every single person who has seen these has felt they are some of the most beautiful objects of art they have ever seen,” McGrew said.
This reaction to Everberg’s dynamic paintings is understandable, but as McGrew also states in her foreword for the exhibition catalog, that is not the only quality of these paintings that makes this exhibition worth seeing:
“Everberg creates an almost hallucinatory environment as the four large paintings, which almost cover the walls, wrap the viewer in an immersive atmosphere. Her lush canvases fuse surface and symbol, representation and abstraction, and subjectivity and authenticity.”