McClain Gallery presents Kaleidoscope Eyes: a two-person exhibition featuring Julia Kunin’s ceramic sculptures together with paintings and works on paper by Mara Held. The two artists, shown together here for the first time, share a visual language and a kindred approach to process and referencing. Their inspirations draw from symbolic and cultural sources, creating evocative abstract forms with a reliance on geometry and nature. 

Picture yourself in a boat on a river

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

- The Beatles, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds

The psychedelic aesthetic of this visually enticing song became the exhibition title after a conversation between the artists about their divergent yet keenly kindred practices. Kaleidoscope eyes see the world in multiples, in fractals, and in shimmering color. The exhibition revels in the active meditation of looking.

Both artists find their paths converging through a shared sense of symbols and optical effects. Materiality is paramount in both the artists’ representative media – egg tempera for Held, ceramic for Kunin. These media afford both artists their own way of marking time and metamorphosis. Kunin’s sculptures, heavy with glaze, stand in contrast with Mara’s lithe, feather-like mark making, but find resonance in their active surfaces and  radiating line work.  

Mara Held’s work serves as a portal to those eras she’s come to understand as foundational in civilization, through the thread of symbols, objects, and crafts from ancient to modern times. For the construction of her paintings and drawings, Held draws from the abstract qualities of natural forms: seashells, coral fans, plants, but also cave drawings, repetition of cellular structures, macro images of the earth. Mara’s drawings can seem cartographic, orienting the body and mind in spatial and architectural ways.

Julia Kunin’s ceramics become a conduit allowing her to visit past epochs freely: European futurist shapes share space with costume design of the Bauhaus; references to geology mingle with the weight of a collected rock in one’s pocket. She references socialist labor and craft practices, commutes to the work a plethora of queer and feminist subtext and uses stones as a reference back to prehistoric drawings – the most primitive way of mark making in petroglyphs and cave painting. Kunin wields the universality of symbols as they are translatable through time.

Both artists’ practices are physically and formally loaded with mystery, reaching into esoteric research topics while accessing a common human experience. There is more to learn just beyond the veil, an avenue of thought the artist has traveled down and left a trail for us to follow. 

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore

Waiting to take you away

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds

And you're gone