Escape portal

Take a break from the news, and ‘allow yourself to be fully transported’ by local art

“Mushroom Spirit,” by Lola Yang

“Mushroom Spirit,” by Lola Yang

Cafe walls:

Portal, paintings by Lola Yang
Shows through
March 30
Naked Lounge
118 W. Second St.

Through the Looking Glass, portraits by Cassius Sonoquie
Shows through April 1
1431 Park Ave.

"[A] sanctuary to deal with the chaos surrounding us.”

That sounds nice right about now, doesn’t it? With coronovirus and its attendant uncertainty/anxiety/fear making its spread into the United States, we are all on edge. I certainly didn’t expect to find significant relief from the stress at a local coffee shop (in fact, I probably made matters worse for my nervous system with my afternoon pick-me-up), but as promised in those words from the artist statement hanging on the wall at the Naked Lounge, there was a measure of “sanctuary” to be found in the paintings on display.

Lola Yang’s exhibit is titled Portal, and her expressive figurative paintings are the sanctuaries she speaks of. She also gives the instructions to “please, allow yourself to be fully transported! I mean, really make sure that your energy is clear and grounded. … Allowin[g] each moment to be fresh and untainted by the last.”

“@dijondigon_,” by Cassius Soniquie

I didn’t let any of that sink in at first. I read the words, I glanced at the paintings on the wall on my way out, and then I went back to work.

It wasn’t until I was at another cafe (and bookstore) across town—Blackbird—looking at another artist’s works, that her ideas hit me. It was quiet, nearly empty, and as I lingered in front of a captivating watercolor/gouache portrait of a peaceful-looking dude in a striped beanie and overalls (titled “@dijondigon_”), I became lost in it. Did I clear my mind, allowing for a fresh untainted moment with the work? Or was 18-year-old Cassius Soniquie’s art so fresh that it drew me in and got me out of my head?

Either way, it doesn’t matter. I became clearheaded. The pieces in Sonoquie’s Through the Looking Glass exhibit got my full attention, providing a welcome respite. The title of the show is a reference to the fact that most of the paintings/drawings are screenviews of people the artist follows on Instagram—from portraits of hip-looking young people to an angry looking clown (who is either dancing or practicing some form of martial art). They’re expressive and fun, and they provide a cool perspective of humanity by zooming in on the individual characters in the ever-widening world of connections being made in a digital community.

After absorbing Sonoquie’s characters, I returned to the Naked Lounge to test out Yang’s Zen-structions while looking at her artwork. The show is made up of both representational and abstract pieces, and it’s with the latter—“intuitive landscapes,” as Yang describes them—that I was able to step through the portal.

Her landscapes reward close inspection, with dark worlds revealing subtle figures in the thick brushstrokes. A wavy figure in the corner of “Campsite” mimics the curve of a tree’s trunk or a campfire flame. Eyeballs and a mélange of mysterious oddities hide in the folds of a bouquet in “Alien Floral.” But most satisfying, given the energy-clearing exercise, was “Mushroom Spirit,” a scene dominated by greens with what looks like foothills descending into a valley in the background. In the foreground, perched among rocks and vegetation, is a lone mushroom—or is it a monk with a big hat meditating in half lotus?

Again, it doesn’t matter. What does is the fact that, for a few moments at least, my mind was still and I wasn’t swirling in the chaos.