Elizabeth Blau, Orlando Montenegro Cruz, Rossitza Todorova at Charleston Heights Arts Center Gallery, Las Vegas, through April 20

By Daniel Habegger

The following is written by the artist-self - not a review in the traditional way. The idea is to further a much needed discourse between artists and their ideas in our local art scene. Some things said here probably need explanation, and some things spoken are controversial, but they are left as valid mysteries…We could debate the connotation of word and symbol in the title of this show, and its many associations; separating the words "Force" and "Nature" by 3 forward slashes sort of may represent the plurality of three artists' positions around the concept of the show.


We are drawn to see the show “Force///Nature” by a beautiful, natural looking, well made poster. Inside the center, Belarusian (?) folklore music streams from the larger room in the back; a small group of dancers practice dance in front of a mirror, whereas the major part of the room is empty. Other forces have commanded the placement of artificial silk plants, fig shrubs or some sort of greenery, along the left wall in this big room, where art could be displayed in lieu. We expected to see a show in this larger space; but it is confined to a 4-wall entity with a door politely leading into it. There is no escape, and we must face the windowless entity.

The artists display their work in slightly overlapping ways, works on canvas, on paper, framed and not, pinned to the wall, in dense accommodation.

Elizabeth Blau shows Ice and Fire, icebergs imagined and seen in reality, melting, endangered by the heat from wildfires. In the larger work with the wild fire, one can virtually feelheat emanating from the canvas. It is clear that Elizabeth loves Nature, and is connected to all things living. I feel the same way. She is not a purely representational artist, as her work can be seen abstract, too.THE FLAMES ENGULFING THE SURFACE IN ONE WORK, THE MASS OF ICEBERGS IN  OTHERS, HOVER OVER THE CANVAS AS MASS OF COLOR AND EXPANSIVE FORM, AND HAVE A LIFE OF THEIR OWN; as if to forget any aspect of aerial spatial staging; only sometimes the viewer is guided back into a perspective view: a small iceberg in the back makes the mass hovering over the picture plane appear as gigantic, gives us an idea what kind of force frozen water is, and we all know the word “tip of the iceberg”. Elizabeth wants these masses of frozen water forming the icebergs to be seen, observed as what they are.

Elizabeth prefers to let the art work speak for itself, represent her through the work, let the work speak on her behalf, which is wonderful, legitimate, and in her situation, makes sense. Most purely abstract work has no message at all, and I am so thankful for that personally-; ultimately both venues, message or not, are possibilities out of a larger scope. We have moved away from the observation after nature a long time ago, but it is still valid as a personal choice.

Elizabeth Blau, detail “Embers” acrylic on canvas (photo credit Mikayla Whitmore)

Elizabeth Blau, detail “Embers” acrylic on canvas (photo credit Mikayla Whitmore)

Rossitza Todorova displays elaborate, (well framed) works on paper, monotypes and flowing fluid lines of organic forms and platonic bodies, suggesting heart and vascular systems in red and blue hues. THE SHAPES FLUIDLY INTERLOCK AND EMBRACE EACH OTHER: AMORPHOUS AND CRYSTALLINE SYSTEMS, FREE ENERGY. THE SOUND OF MY BEATING HEART, AN INNER LANDSCAPE CONNECTING THE ARTIST PERSON TO THE OUTER WORLD, IS A VERY STRONG DISPLAY OF SELF EMPOWERMENT; THE ARTIST MAKING HERSELF OBJECT SELF, THE ONLY CONVINCING WAY OF SELF-REFERENCE IN POST-POST MODERN ART. Rossitza also seems to be interested in design aspects of sculpture, and it will be fascinating to see whether she moves towards Design, away (?) from Art, or further, even closer into Art. In this show, Rossitza seems to follow and be within the finely tuned systems she displays and from which she draws, listening, in constant feedback, what is going on inside, in the body and its connection to mind.

Rossitza Todorova, "My Beating Heart," mono-print, gouache, colored pencil on gray paper (image courtesy the artist)
Rossitza Todorova, "My Beating Heart," mono-print, gouache, colored pencil on gray paper (image courtesy the artist)


Orlando Montenegro Cruz works on paper, WHICH ARE DIRECTLY PINNED TO THE WALL, RESISTING THEIR PLAINNESS AS ORGANIC MATERIAL; WARPED, THEY REMIND ME OF THE BARK OF TREES. Orlando has created an alphabet of endless, slightly altered repeating shapes, line clusters, varying in color, which map out the surface as amorphous mass. No grand composition, more a cosmos of sub forms building up a complex of indefinable super hierarchies, existing peacefully, parallel to one another. His sense of abstraction is progressively leading away from a purely organic world, and thus his language is being removed from a purely representational model, as only the modulation of the shapes remains somewhat organic. Looking at previous work by this artist, I feel a strong tradition based connection to air and light, elementary forces. Asking Orlando for comment, he notes: “My goal in my paintings is to suggest landscapes  and reference  how earth  looks when viewed in an airplane at a high altitude. I like to look at satellite images of the earth on google maps and I like doppler radar images.  I think about man made elements such as freeways, roads, city grids, and natural forms like rivers or lakes. I LIKE TO HIDE OR SUGGEST THE SHAPE OF THE BODY OR PARTS OF IT WHILE I MAKE PATHWAYS AND MAKE SURE THE SHAPES ARE NOT CLEARLY LEGIBLE."

I asked again: “when you speak of forms of natural shapes e.g., a lake, seen from high altitude, your intention is to make them not legible; is this because you favor abstraction over representation? And such shapes, do they transform from organic shape to abstract form, and form clusters? Or do you make them less readable for reasons of secretive nature?”

Orlando Montenegro Cruz, "Chasma" acrylic, art stix, artist crayon on paper (photo credit Mikayla Whitmore)
Orlando Montenegro Cruz, "Chasma" acrylic, art stix, artist crayon on paper (photo credit Mikayla Whitmore)

Orlando:"WHEN I BEGAN DOING ABSTRACTION I WAS INSPIRED BY THE NAZCA LINES IN PERU WHEN SEEN FROM ABOVE AND I WAS ALSO INSPIRED BY SPIRAL JETTY BECAUSE THEY ARE CLEAR AND DISTINGUISHABLE MAN MADE SYMBOLS THAT WERE IN SHARP CONTRAST BUT WHICH WER NEVER PART OF THEIR SURROUNDINGS. I LIKE HOW THEY ARE MAN MADE AND CAN DISINTEGRATE OR DISAPPEAR THROUGH NATURAL FORCES I favor abstraction at the moment for this concept. The main natural form that I specifically reference is the body when I draw the outline of a figure or parts of the body. I think of the paintings like systems but in a more abstract and unconstrained sense than a diagram or weather satellite image that has a utilitarian use.  I hide the body or cover it up in a sense but it never really exists in the painting other than as a loose outline or shape that is broken up or scattered.

I don't draw specific bodies of water such as lakes or streams but  I want shapes to be read like water, blood, liquid, or a freeway, canal, or confetti. I apply the paint so that it keeps its property as a liquid. I want to suggest a map or a diagram but not be constrained and try to replicate how they work.  I like to play around and be loose so that I can organize elements into a composition. 

In one of the paintings, I have linear elements that look like a child drew squiggles and it looks like spaghetti or string but it is neither because I didn't draw it to look like string and it keeps its essence as a line. I think of those like pathways that are jumbled and unorganized.   I like the word clusters. It reminds me of flocks of birds or locust swarms. I tend to make everything a little chaotic as if it is falling apart”.

After reading Orlando’s comments, compared to Rossitza, this artist tends to look at the natural world from above, and the satellite view not only applies to topographic elements, but also is systematic-LIKE THE SIMILARITIES OF THE STREAMS WITHIN OUR BODIES MAP OUT JUST LIKE RIVER STREAMS IN THE NATURAL OUTDOOR WORLD; as in images Orlando had attached in his mail to me to illustrate his idea- and so the association with the vascular systems on Rossitza’s works in this show is striking. One could say, Rossitza is more inside these streams, Orlando more outside, but connected. Compared to Elizabeth’s works in the show, she seems to be more grounded and looks at the natural world, hovers, IS THERE.

Mother Earth, Father Sky or Mother Sky and Father Earth?

How is the artist-person connected to nature and a force? Does an artist force nature into her or his concept? Or is it a natural force within an artist forcing the outcome of work? And of course it is about our connection to nature, the natural world, our living space (feeling engaged with our natural living room, and by feeling sorry for its ongoing destruction?) Rossitza notes:"THE TITLE OF THE SHOW FORCE///NATURE IS A PLAY ON FORCE OF NATURE. FOR ME, IT MADE SENSE TO SHIFT THE TITLE, AS THE THREE OF US ARE NOT REALLY TALKING ABOUT NATURE, BUT RATHER WHAT WE HAVE DONE, OR ARE DOING TO IT. WE MAP, WE MEASURE, SCALE, CLAM, TRAVEL THROUGH, REPLICATE, AND MANIPULATE NATURE. OFTEN THE FORCE COMES FROM /// ELSEWHERE, NOT NATURE ITSELF."

To me the forces of nature are also within us, not outside, like a separate entity, as we are members of the natural world. Sometimes in my life I have come across persons who struck me as a force of nature- people with extraordinary talent. Man brings hate though; animals do not. Fear based thinking is common to both? How about anger as natural force? Nature forces things? Like the force of wind- is it directed at something, and where does it arise from? What is its source? The oceans’ condensation process, changes in barometric pressure, the earth’s propulsion from spinning? (Aha!).DOES THE ARTIST FORCE THINGS INTO SHAPE? - DEFINITELY. WE DESTROY, APPLYING EMOTIONS TO STUFF. Nature is destructive by nature or the consequence of manipulation? Since we are members of the natural world, and depend on its well being,WE SHOULD NOT DESTROY THE SOURCE OF OUR WELLNESS - RIGHT? China, once a vast rural community, has been destroying its natural world; since it is an oligarchy, and because its dark leaders desire to strive for world dominance. They, the leaders, will probably fail. Why? Simply because China’s population will get sick from its forced industrialization, and will need assistance.

Reaching out to Jeanne Voltura, the city of Las Vegas Gallery Director, curator of this serious show at Charleston Heights Arts Center, and an artist herself; regarding the show’s title and concept, she writes the following:

It is a current, personal, passionate and relevant topic in our world and the way it is going in terms of man’s hand in nature’s change  the importance of looking at our environment, the control and loss of control ... due to man’s manipulation of something that should be left alone. Their (the artists’) statements each mentioned nature and their separate interest in nature.WHAT I REMEMBER AND TOOK AWAY WITH ME FROM EACH IS MOVEMENT AND TRAVEL THROUGH CHANGING NATURAL SPACES, REVERENCE FOR WHAT WE CANNOT ALWAYS CONTROL IN NATURE (WHAT I READ INTO THE STATEMENTS), THE MICROSCOPIC LOOK AT NATURE, IDEAS OF CHAOS AND ORDER. . . LINEAR AND SHAPE MOVEMENT ON THE PAGE SPACE AS IT RELATES TO MOVEMENT IN REAL SPACE (MY INTERPRETATION AS WELL).

Nature is an important topic in art...mostly because our planet is always changing and at risk. We want to romanticize it or show it as its best and worst…through abstraction, we can hint at what is happening at the micro level. Also, nature is part of art history and also made the work very relevant to me referencing art history and landscape. I loved the clean white use of the negative spaces in Rossitza’s work…and her careful placement of the shapes and forms. While, Orlando’s work was a frenzy of energy and convoluted and filled spaces…and Elizabeth’s work seemed to be romanticizing memory or nostalgia for things of the past of moments in time that cannot be held on to or returned to in terms of our effects on nature and love of beauty in nature.  The shimmer in Elizabeth and Orlando’s work seen in the paint and applied dust within the wet surface before it dried also hinted at nostalgia and the romantic way we remember things in our past."

Study after nature still making sense?

“Forces of Nature” evoke an organic element/idea. Donald Judd rejected the organic  as he compared it to the old ways, e.g. aerial perspective, color in half tones, like grays and browns, instead of introducing the new colors and new materials, like pure cadmium red, or the spectrum of colors created in anodized metals. He introduced non organic materials into art. Was he a formalist? It does not matter: nowadays we are at liberty of our choices, and the old fight between study after nature vs. industrial approach in abstraction is not an issue anymore.

The great Wassily Kandinsky, who, by the way, was born as early as 1866, had already revolutionized abstraction long before e.g. French artists came to fully understand it.

And then again we must say that paleolithic Art wasalready and first abstract, not understood in the Western world, to this day.THE PEOPLE OF THAT TIME - DATING BACK A MINIMUM OF 750,000 YEARS AGO WERE SUPER INTELLIGENT, LIKE NATIVE AMERICANS AND ALL INDIGENOUS CULTURES ARE. THE FORCES OF COLONIAL POWER ARE OPPOSITE: BARBARIC, AS THEY HAVE REGRESSED TO ENSLAVE OTHERS, AND BY ANNIHILATING EVERYTHING LIVING, ANIMATED, ANYBODY OBSTRUCTING THE COLONIALISTS' IDIOTIC BELIEF SYSTEMS. POWER \\\ ABUSE.  Only upper paloeolithic art, is in part, figurative-representational. You do not learn about this in school.

After the fight between figurative and abstract, a new fight arose between the figure and ground dilemma, clearly won, in the end, by American artists, and all that remained and still has remained in something as traditional as painting or drawing, is the forceof gesture and force of image and self, battling both figure and ground, being figure through the natural force of the artist individual, removing the ground altogether(?)

"Force///Nature" can be understood literally, or in a more abstract way of thinking creatively. I hope to see more shows like this in the future.

DH Jan/Feb 2016

Copyright Daniel Habegger 2016

Force /// Nature, Elizabeth Blau, Orlando Montenegro Cruz, Rossitza Todorova at the Charleston Heights Arts Center Gallery, through April 20. Gallery Hours: W-F 12:30-9 PM, Saturday 12-6 PM. 702-229-6383

Title photo credit Mikayla Whitmore. 

Daniel Habegger was born in 1958 in Basel Switzerland. He lived and worked in Berlin 1984-94 and in New York 1983, 1994-96, where he was awarded an artist residency fellowship from MOMA P.S.1 1994-95. He has lived and worked in Las Vegas, Nevada since 1996.

Elizabeth Blau is a painter whose work has been exhibited in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and Philadelphia. She completed her MFA degree at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia, PA (Painting & Drawing 2012) and her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from CalArts, California Institute of the Arts, (2004). She has been awarded grants and fellowships from The Sam & Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts in New York, the Nevada Arts Council, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, and has recently been awarded a fellowship with The Arctic Circle Residency program. Elizabeth teaches 2-D Design, Drawing and Painting courses at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Each series of paintings by Elizabeth explores different ways our landscapes transform and how they are remembered.

Orlando Montenegro Cruz was born in Managua, Nicaragua in the early 1980s and immigrated to Las Vegas in late 1989. In 2007 he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and he earned his Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Arizona in Tucson in 2010. His abstract, mixed media works on paper deal primarily with the body and nature and society's relationship to its environment. He is interested in disfiguration and fragmentation in order to explore connections and parallels in different phenomena. He currently teaches drawing at UNLV.

Rossitza Todorova, Tempe, Arizona based artist was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, raised in Reno, Nevada. She moved to Arizona to pursue her Master's of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Drawing from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, School of Art at Arizona State University. Since graduating in 2013, Todorova, has been stockpiling inspiration -- when she's not working at ASU Art Museum, teaching as an adjunct professor at ASU's School of Art, or creating new works. Rossitza Todorova's work is exhibited internationally. Her drawings and prints are in the permanent collections of the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, University of Arizona Art Museum in Tucson, the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada, and the Painting and Sculpture Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as numerous private collections. Todorova’s work has been published in “500 Artists Books: Volume 2,” “Studio Visit: Volume 25,” as well the “Fresh Paint Magazine: Volume 4.”

Posted by Wendy Kveck