What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

March 14, 2024

Lucia Engstrom
Lovers & Dreamers
Von Lintel Gallery
February 3 - March 23, 2024

Lucia Engstrom

Lucia Engstrom's enigmatic works combine textiles and photography. By adding patches of thread she changes the overall tenor of the landscapes depicted in her images. Engstrom's use of embroidery differs from other artists like Maurizio Anzeri, Julie Cockburn, Flore Gardner or Diane Meyer who stitch on top of small-scale photographs essentially drawing over what is below and turning the surface into pixels or embellishing the image with decoration. Engstrom's amalgamation of different types of hand dyed threads (colored by the artist to match elements within the photographs) have more in common with works by artists such as Channing Hansen who collects and dyes raw fleece, spins it into yarn and assembles this material into complex knitted forms recalling open weave abstract paintings.

In older series like Diffused Landscapes (2013-2018) before Engstrom added embroidery to her pictures, she explored the relationship between water and sky to present the natural landscape as over-saturated and abstracted blurs hovering above and below the horizon line. To create the images in her Lovers & Dreamers series, she uses a needle and organic threads like silk, mohair and wool, piercing the printed cotton rag paper to augment specific areas of the photographs with sewn textures that give the images a sculptural quality.

In a work like Baltic Blue (all works 2023), tufts of blue and green threads of varying thickness emerge out of the landscape at the horizon line. The base image is an extremely blurred yet brightly colored landscape filled with a gradient of blue— the sky and sea— that surrounds a fuzzy line of green-brown hills. The embroidered shape covers the center of the composition to become something at once derived from the image in terms of color, yet completely alien from it in material and texture. This constantly moves the eye from seeing the contrasting forms and textures apart from one another to integrating them.

In Blue Storm, wave-like shapes of yarn cover an image of cascading waves as they hit the shore. The deep blue sky is filled with ominous clouds suggesting an approaching storm. The sewn shapes dance in the foreground (and into the white border of the paper) as if a close-up of the turbulent sea. Mirage is more subtle. Here, Engstrom depicts a group of small tree-filled islets surrounded by water and sky. Like in the other images, Engstrom portrays the landscape as a poetic expanse of either bombastic or subtle colors. White threads appear like soft mustaches or wispy clouds disrupting the calm sea as they hover above the surface of the print and move beyond the borders of the image. Some of the plant life in the lower portion of the photograph has also been stitched over, adding texture and dimensionality.

Home: Blue/Yellow is more reminiscent of Engstrom's previous work. It pictures a brightly lit and out of focus wooded area filled with blue and green trees that are backed by soft yellow leaves and patches of white sky. This over-saturated image is bracketed by clusters of embroidery that approximate the colors and shapes of the landscape. These interventions extend beyond the edges of the printed image into the white border area and break down the confines of the rectangle, frequently spilling the relief of the embroidery off of the flat image and into the viewers’ space.

Echo (Burnt Orange) has the most aggressive application of stitching. Atop a sharply focused black and white seascape split in half — sky at the top and water at the bottom — is a bulging shape made from a melange of orange, yellow, mauve, gray and purple threads. Like the shape in Baltic Blue, Engstrom spins the overlay emerging out of the photographic image from her imagination. It may begin within the confines of the photograph, but the completed image transforms it to a dramatic (as is the case in “Echo (Burnt Orange”) or more subtle result. The tensions between what is first photographed and subsequently added, as well as the relationship between the flat printed surface and the imprecise or gestural dimensional stitching, is what gives these works their intrigue and appeal.