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Perfect Chaos

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen artist Laura Thornenext to her work titled Indecision at the David Floria Gallery Wednesday morning September 8, 2004. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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The world, and the life that exists in it, are fragmented, strange, confusing and complex. In Aspen, for example, turn your head one way, and you see a hillside full of mammoth, obscenely expensive homes that sit empty the majority of the time; turn your head a notch, and there are the vast, empty, natural spaces leading toward Independence Pass. Or, at another extreme, say in Washington, D.C., it is possible to see simultaneously a street panhandler and a place where the most significant decisions on the planet are made.Laura Thorne, for one, isn’t trying to impose order over this chaos. In Thorne’s Dreams and Visions exhibit, which opens at the David Floria Gallery with a reception tonight from 6-8 p.m., complexity is embraced. The very makeup of the exhibit reflects Thorne’s habit of allowing various elements to interact: Dreams and Visions comprises largely metallic, hard-looking mixed media sculptures, as well as delicate monotypes, dominated by a very natural-feeling green. Within the pieces themselves, shiny steel mixes with grass; flowers and bugs exist within the same space as eyes taken from medical texts.”They represent my interest in the complexity and diversity that exist in our lives, in the world,” said Thorne – usually known as Missy – who does, indeed, split her time between homes in Old Snowmass and the nation’s capital. “Rather than trying to systemize it, put it in a grid and say, this is what it is, I just put it out there. I let one get the idea that, in our world, there is that complexity and diversity. I embrace it, rather than structure it.”

That sense of complexity runs deep in the exhibit. Thorne’s two different breeds of art, while touching on the common theme of diversity, also tend to address distinct concerns.The sculptural works speak of the relationship between the natural and the manufactured, combining slick, industrial elements with more natural, curvelinear objects, like the eggs that have become a Thorne signature. The monotypes tend toward the more emotional realm. In “Prickly Visions,” the standout piece of the exhibit, a spooky, spider-like character – made of both print and collage elements – is stared at ominously by a scientific rendering of an eyeball. The interaction takes place against a soft green background. The piece is at once beautiful and ominous, composed and random, peaceful and charged with emotion. And all of it is ruled by uncertainty: “Who’s going which way? And what is happening here?” says Thorne.Furthering the sense of interaction, Thorne uses some of the same objects in both the sculpture and monotypes. The plum bob, for instance, a pointed metal device used to determine verticality, is found in both the sculpture “Indecision” and the monotype “Ocularcentrist,” where it shares room with an eye, some wires and several cows.

“That’s that random, unpredictable part of life. You get things all set up – and along come the cows. Sometimes it’s bugs,” said Thorne. “They’re elements that are different from what the rest of it looks like.”It’s about being comfortable with living with what’s out there, rather than trying to control it. Because I’ve always felt the world’s like that. There are a lot of choices, and a lot of things that affect us over which we have no control.”

In this random, complex world, Thorne has made some definite contributions to the Aspen art world.Though she studied English at Stanford in the ’60s, Thorne decided to pursue her lifelong love of painting, and studied informally with a series of artists. When she saw the abstract expressionist sculptural work of David Smith, Thorne’s head and career path were instantly turned.”I wanted to learn to weld. I wanted the physicality of working with stuff,” she said. “But no one was clear on how I could learn to weld.”In Aspen, Thorne created a way, unorthodox though it was. One summer in Aspen, where she had been drawn to the art scene – especially the photography workshop The Center of the Eye – since the late ’60s, Thorne went to the Mill Street welding shop (where Community Bank of Aspen now stands).

“They told me to get boots and goggles, pay $3 an hour, and stand in the corner and watch,” she said. After moving here full-time in 1975, Thorne took a studio in an old barn at Snowmass Village’s Anderson Ranch Art Center. By the early ’80s, she was exhibiting her work and teaching. Thorne left Aspen in 1996 for Washington, D.C., where her husband, former Aspen Times editor-in-chief Loren Jenkins, now heads the international news department for NPR. But she has left her mark here. Her sculptural piece, “Aspiring Squares,” has stood on Aspen’s pedestrian mall for some 20 years. And Thorne, along with Richard Carter and Laura Donnelly, was part of the threesome that founded the Aspen Art Museum in 1979.Thorne said opening a contemporary art museum in the middle of the Rockies, with minimal funds, out of an old electric power plant, was a quixotic venture. People pointed out that various cutting-edge art programs, like the Aspen Center for Contemporary Art, had petered out, unable to find a permanent home.

“When we went to start the museum, everybody said, ‘You can’t do contemporary art in Aspen.’ They’d say, ‘Look at everything that happened here, and it failed,'” said Thorne, who will teach a course, Intensive Sculpture, with Rick Parsons and Rico Eastman, at Anderson Ranch beginning Monday, Sept. 13.”We were too innocent and driven by a good idea not to do it. We did it on an inclusive level. We wanted kids to come from school. We felt, the bigger your audience, the better chance you have to succeed. And then it was one of those amazing things – all the parts came together.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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