Jane and Kimberly reconsider the power of craft in the hands of Pat Lasch as she presents her bakery inspired sculptures as a Journey of the Heart. They’re surprised, delighted and moved deeply by art that goes beneath the ‘icing on the cake’ of women’s lives.
As I walked into The Galen Museum in Palm Desert, California to see the Pat Lasch exhibit, Journey of the Heart, I was stopped in my tracks by a full-sized lacy wedding dress elevated on a platform. As I stood there, I was a bit mesmerized by the exquisite headless gown with two small, child-sized clones just behind it. A museum host approached me, “What do you think the dress is made of?” “No idea,” I answered. “Paint,” he said, with a slight smile, waiting for my next question. He knew it didn’t look like paint. But Pat Lasch treats paint like a baker treats icing on a cake to create elaborate celebratory dresses, squeezing it through paper tubes to form intricate lacey bibs and cuffs and spreading it into thin sheets for arms, skirt, and bodice. An amazing feat, for sure.
The dresses are central to this exhibition and each marks a significant moment in a woman’s life from christening to maiden to wedding to shroud. Although the dresses are absent of the figure, we get a hint of the woman through other objects: candies, flowers, pastries, hearts, nudes on plinths, eggs and bones. The pieces weave an intimate narration of the artist’s personal journey but also reflect the universal female experience around rites of passage. A rich history of celebration, joy, heartbreak, and death is on display and as we see one of the dresses named in homage to her grandmother Anna Reilly, we understand the legacy of being a woman. Times may change but what becomes written on a woman’s body throughout her lifetime does not.
But Pat Lasch has much more to offer than unusual craft. She is a master sculptor expressing worlds of women’s truth with her viscous acrylic paint. What held me for many moments of contemplation before that wedding dress was its presentation with two equally delicate but small christening dresses. All three dresses standing together send a powerful visual message of bride as mother, bride as carrier of generations, bride as multiple, not singular. I couldn’t help but think of a bride walking down the aisle, all eyes turning and seeing her glistening in the light of her immaculate white dress with thoughts that it wouldn’t be long until she’d be spawning small replicas of herself. The bride, carrier of humanity.
What a far cry from the scandalous wedding dress painting Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl created by Whistler in 1861. The realist painting caused a scandal at a salon for its connotations of a bride’s lost innocence, as if marriage was a mere deflowering of the girl rather than a new lofty responsibility as a woman. Your interpretation is full of power—power that Lasch has always brought to her work as a prominent feminist artist who launched from the New York scene of the 1970s. Like many of the artists of that time, she co-opted the everyday objects of domesticity and femininity to transpose upon them a strong, message of feminism. Her piece Cake with Hanging Skirt is a fine example of this. We see a cake, gorgeously decorated, with a blue lacy skirt falling off its side and the top is stuck with tons of straight pins. It is as if the artist has combined prettiness and daintiness and is stabbing it like a pincushion. It smells of the expectation and apprehension that sometimes lurks within these moments of family tradition, ritual and ceremony. Reminds me of the holiday party where my mother, dressed up and smiling like an elegant silk doll, accidentally broke a wine glass with the mere pressure of her palm because she was secretly simmering inside over some slight by my father. I see this in her cake sculptures and in her stitched paper and canvas pieces. I love how her signature piped painting technique mirrors the work of world class pastry chefs, that her father taught her his trade, and that she in return used his teachings to inform an entirely new craft so undeniably her own.
Journey of the Heart brings to life Pat Lasch’s book, If You Make a Mistake, Put A Rose On It. The title brings an instant smile. And her many replicas of cakes, petit fours and candies bring more. In every woman’s life, there will be mistakes, disappointments and every woman knows how to make lemonade out of lemons. But putting a tiny rose on a botched attempt at perfection calls for bittersweet recollections and a cryptic laugh of recognition. My grandmother told the story of dropping the mashed potatoes on her way into the dining room, scooping them up and saying she had ‘pre-peppered’ the potatoes so my grandfather wouldn’t know about her accident.
And I love that it was her father who told her this trick. I am increasingly alarmed in our technocratic world at how many girls today are growing up convinced they need to be “brands.” Girls thinking that their carefully curated Instagram feeds need to appear flawless. Girls using myriad filters and applications on their selfies to lighten their skin or remove a small wrinkle. They don’t realize that if everything is beautiful, everything will be boring. Pat Lasch’s work tells me that everything doesn’t have to be pretty; it just has to have meaning.
Pat’s book is about woman-magic, a woman’s ability to turn life’s ups and downs into transformations of the spirit. Pat’s crafty sculptures embody the beauty of it all. She turns wedding fantasies into sculptures that capture the essence of womanhood and then, turns the dark side into fun. It is, after all, the shadows in the folds of fabric and lace that make the white gleam even whiter. The broken dreams are yet to come. What do you give a cheater, a betrayer of love? Pat tells us.
I love that you say she turns the dark side fun. It’s clear in her work that there are often dual connotations between that light and dark. I love her Box of Poison Cookies for Past Lovers, and her Five Hearts Presented to God For Judgment—two pieces in that vein. She’s not taking her pain and secreting it into a locked closet inside her soul. She is wickedly presenting it with all the morbid horror of a fairy tale, in which we know good things happen to heroines who first suffer great heartaches and pains. In another piece, Woman Gone Mad, a pretty pink book with gold on its cover is opened to reveal the murderous impulses Lasch experienced after the break up of her marriage.
Yes, I wept on the inside while also smiling as I looked at Pat’s entry wall sculpture of two hearts with the bloodline between them snipped by scissors. This heartache is called ‘Frida’ for Frida Khalo and furthered Pat’s commentary on the dark side of love.
Frida, who lived in daily physical pain yet created those prolific paintings also filled with shadow, sex, and rage. Pat is telling us that we are ugly and beautiful simultaneously and that all emotions have permission to be expressed. That life is full a multitude of cycles that begin and end lends me an ideal sense of comfort when seen on Lasch’s stage. It makes me want to invite intensity into all experience going forward, to lick and relish and lust the rest of my life.
Her show really begins in a side room with the ancestors, two gigantic wheels of linen on the wall with tiny stitches marking time in the invisible impossibility of a woman knowing just who and how many influences have brought her this far. In the same room, a sleeping man is stretched out naked on a plinth so high that a woman needs a ladder to reach him. We get that one. It stands side by side with two other plinths, one, a naked sleeping female with her genital lips as prominent as the man’s penis. Above her shoulders are three delicate eggs – hers, of course. Ours, of course. In between the two is another plinth with a seated female nude fishing with a golden thread into a legacy of eggs.
Those last three pieces you mention are from Pat’s Sacred Breeders series in which she carved men and women to portray the peacefulness that comes from a very youthful enjoyment of sex when one is young. The eggs represent the circle of life that exists in every single one of us. I love the quietness of these pieces, they way they are not overly idealized and the way they showcase a softer, more innocent angle of love and sex. In the beginning, we walk with hope and grace into matters of the heart, then we find a long and varied road ripe with so much more.
Faux chocolate follows creamy white. All kinds of black candies and cakes, large and small – petit fours with fishnet fans and flowers, boxes of splendidly decorated chocolates – but they’re not delicious, they’re deadly. And, for those who truly want to cut into the timelessness of grief and despair, Pat offers a Bardo Black Cake for crossing the darkness between death and whatever follows. But it was a skinny tall and tiered cake styled exactly after a wedding cake but all in black that captured my imagination and provoked insight. Pat seems to be saying that endings, met as celebrations of human transformations as much as beginnings deserve respect, love, and appreciation. Peace of mind truly comes with yielding to slights in life without judgment. I want one of these – for real – at my funeral!
Endings deserve respect. I heard a wise man say once that people always look at the end of relationships with the idea that the relationship failed. But wouldn’t it be great if we could look at all of our past relationships as successes because of the lessons we learned from them and the way they informed our continued evolution through life?
And then back we come to the dresses, confections of sheer amazement. How does she do it? Fortunately, there’s a video and samples to touch. But Pat is taking us forward into the metaphoric power of transitions in a woman’s life as she ritualizes their significance in a gold leaf prayer cloth and a shimmering alter cloth. And if anyone has missed the point, two small sculptures in the last room invite personal reflection, projection, and identification. A beautiful young woman leans over the edge of her tub looking down into a mirror that reflects her future, a skeleton reaching up to meet her. The other is another young woman cradled in a baker’s egg form while a darkened skeleton leans over her from behind, over and above her head to remind us that a woman feels her own death even in her youth. It’s all to say, celebrate and be wiser for the connection made that women hold, palpable, within their bodies from the beginnings to the endings of life.