LOS ANGELES — The dichotomy at the center of Hayley Barker’s Laguna Castle at Night Gallery is the quotidian nature of the subject matter and the grandeur of the paintings’ scale. Rendered with a tender, but not obsessive, attention to detail, many of the paintings are inspired by Barker’s time as the inaugural artist-in-residence at Latitude for Art, a program started out of activist Isa-Kae Meksin’s apartment after her passing in 2022. Continuing Barker’s longtime interest in the everyday sublime, many of the exhibition’s paintings deliberately cultivate the feel of casual photographs, in contrast with their meticulous rendering and impressive scale.
In one such painting, “View from Isa’s Window” (2022), the window frame is slightly but noticeably angled within the rectangular frame of the canvas. Through this pointed gesture, Barker gives psychic and spiritual weight to an “imperfect,” pre-edited version of life — the kind that rarely appears in a typical Instagram feed, for example. Barker repeats this strategy in “Isa’s Wall of Photographs” (2023), which depicts a bulletin board laden with personal snapshots and tokens from Meksin’s life. Like the window frame, the bulletin board is slightly askew, giving the image the quality of a snapshot from a disposable camera.
The exhibition’s undeniable focus is landscape painting, and Barker’s adherence to and breaks from its traditions. Her admiration of the flora and fauna of the West Coast, and especially California, comes through vividly in her work. Yet she diverges from the colonialist underpinnings of the American landscape tradition, predicated on conquering the land, by presenting nature as an entity that dominates over culture. Rather than antagonism, however, she envisions a harmonic relationship. In works such as “The Terrace Path” (2023), which depicts a charming cobblestone path in a moonlight garden scene, she suggests that we can be transported to a spiritual experience simply by practicing more awareness of our present surroundings.
The exhibition’s crescendo is inspired by a different, yet still personal, source. The massive (144 by 100-inch) “My Folk’s Place” (2023) depicts the blue house of Barker’s parents through the “eye” of a spiderweb. The stark white lines that delineate the door and windows of the relatively humble abode are veritably swamped by the landscape around the home, a rich swathe of garden and foliage that encases the architecture and, presumably, the family within. In this painting, as in others such as “Big Cactus” and “By Martin’s Porch” (both 2022), Barker’s love of the natural environment is on full display. The artist conveys nature as an exuberant, living force that cannot be tamed regardless of the magnitude of human intervention and destruction.
Barker’s optimism is palpable across the exhibition, in which she manages to make the small incredibly large through her attention and devotion. Too often, artwork that focuses on the everyday cannot transcend the slightness or apparent insignificance of its subject matter. Using grand scale, lush color, and time-intensive labor she creates artwork that truly magnifies the sublime in that which is often overlooked.
Hayley Barker: Laguna Castle continues at Night Gallery (2276 East 16th Street and 2050 Imperial Street, Arts District, Los Angeles, California) through March 18. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.