Urban Kaleidoscope: The City, by Lorena Morales, is a bright paint and ink illustration on Plexiglas. It is a view of the Austin skyline from the south side of Lady Bird Lake. I was born and raised in Austin, so the image should have been instantly recognizable, but I had to have it confirmed that the picture did, in fact, represent Austin. This is due to Morales’ trippy aesthetic. The colors begin at the bottom with the blue of the lake, then slowly transform skyward into the luminous yellows and oranges of a sunset. All of the details – trees, buildings, clouds – are drawn in black outlines, so that you can see through the buildings to the orange-yellow sky behind them. I only began to suspect I was looking at Austin when I noted the familiar pyramidal shape of 100 Congress.
I can be further forgiven for my failure to immediately recognize my hometown because Morales has sliced the image into intermittent vertical strips. She has also cut the Plexiglas so that multiple circles of various sizes appear over the scene, confusing the forms that would otherwise be more distinctive. These alterations make Urban Kaleidoscope: The City into a distorted version of Austin, one that, according to the artist, reflects the piecemeal nature of memory. Morales’ dismantled surface, combined with her drawing style – like a graphic novelist’s expressive line – do offer a somewhat hallucinatory experience. Her colors are vibrant, her swirling clouds like something out of Yellow Submarine, psychedelic and unsettling, the way a memory may be when it is just out of reach.
That said, the image is still predictable in some ways. It is accessible, which is fine, but the vertical lines and circles are precise in a way a memory, having begun to dissipate, probably can’t be. Morales seems to have sensed this, which may have led to her more adventurous piece, Chromourban, a series of painted Plexiglas rods that hang in a line, and at different heights, from the ceiling. The installation is immediately compelling. Light bounces over and through the Plexiglas and paint lending the piece a fetching brilliance that is sensuous and satisfying. One can walk around and behind the rods and look through them to see how objects on the other side are bent and manipulated by the material, like objects in a funhouse mirror.
As a mimesis of memory, Chromourban functions well. The color that plays over it is fleeting in a way one might expect of a memory – especially a cherished one. The piece is a significant size, but the rods seem light enough, and the color slight enough, that it is unobtrusive, like something in the back of one’s mind. It contains the ubiquity of a powerful-yet-distant experience, a past moment that has left lessons so deep they’ll always remain, though a person may rarely reflect on them. Chromourban strikes me as a significant evolution from the more traditional works on display, such as Urban Kaleidoscope: The City. (I’m told Chromourban is representative of a greater body of abstract work.) It is a pleasure to see a piece like Morales’ Austin landscape, which hints at the fickle phenomenon of memory, and then to seeChromourban nearby, elegant and quiet, yet just extreme enough to match the heartbreaking transience of memory itself. As a native enraged by Austin’s losing battle with capital, that daily heartbreak is palpable. Memory’s narrative is one of joy and sorrow. Morales’ work speaks to both.