Biology, Technology & Radiant Color:
The Spectacular Art of Cudra Clover

BY BETTY ANN BROWN -- ART HISTORIAN, CRITIC AND CURATOR

A large, light-filled gallery. Columns of silken color line the walls, fragile tapestries arranged like a fabric colonnade. A blue circle explodes into anemone-like profusion. Spiky turquoise spheres hover over cerulean discs. Beaded bands descend through shimmering curtains of intense crimson. Small green ovoids, marked by translucent nuclei, are stacked in molecular pillars. An aquamarine uterus floats through a realm of spiraling genetic strands.

 And next to it, a red room. Color, shape, and space intersect in dizzying profusion. From wallpaper to ceiling, chandelier to mirror, and chairs to sconces to mounted deer antlers, kaleidoscopic fragments erupt, flow, and enchant.  Two large framed video screens loop computer-generated "rifts" of the painted images from the white room. An infinity mirror enchants like Sleeping Beauty's. And in the center of the room, a table topped with a computer invites viewers to play with the rich, diverse visuals.

Outside, immense biological images are projected on the facade of the museum. The walls become translucent; the structure seems to evaporate. The entire building is enveloped in radiance.

           

Cudra Clover's art astonishes. It delights and fascinates, and it insists on interactive engagement.

Generated on computers, painted on silk, transferred to walls, and enhanced by video projections, Cudra's oeuvre blends the biological and the technological in marvelous mash-ups of cells and code. In doing so, the artist highlights the cybernetic reality we all inhabit. It does so with heightened aesthetic insight, inviting viewers to know and accept our machine-dependent world.

Cudra's father built her an art studio when she was six years old. It included a big wall for drawings and a space for producing childhood light shows using flashlights and colored water. She went on to study fashion, music, and writing, completing her education at Columbia College of Chicago. There she added sculpture, journalism, and laser-light projections to her creative palette. In spite of her extensive training, the young Cudra didn't believe she could make a career as an artist.

It was not until she moved to Maui, Hawaii, in 2002 that she changed her mind. First, she studied with a silk painter and learned the time-honored techniques. Then she met the man who was to become her husband: audio-visual specialist Ben Yashon. They began to collaborate on mixed media presentations. And Ben began to insist she take her art-making more seriously. After one of her silk paintings was included in the prestigious Art Maui in 2004, she began exhibiting widely. Since then, she has mounted two major shows in Chicago (2016) and an expansive presentation at Maui's Hui No-eau Visual Art Center (2018). By the time of the Hui exhibition, Cudra's work had achieved a maturity and sophistication that propelled the artist onto a world-class stage.

Structuralist philosophers tell us that Western culture has been built on dualism, with oppositions like male/female, mind/body, good/evil, and culture/nature constituting absolute and conflicting categories of thought. Another binary is human vs. machine, with our species valued and our mechanical devices devalued. (Indeed, the word "machine" is derived from Greek and Latin terms which included "scheme" or "trick" as part of their meaning; the word "machination" still carries that implication. We continue to fear that machines might "trick" us. Complex computers and increasingly intelligent robots prompt anxiety responses we call "technophobia.")

Rather than repeat the human/machine dichotomy, Cudra Clover's work blends the biological and the technological with an elegance that is both seductive and healing. Viewers are reminded that cancer patients, for example, are instructed to visualize their healthy cells destroying the death-bringing invaders. Such curative biotic battles are gloriously represented in the dynamic flow of Cudra's compositions.

The artist continues the aesthetic explorations of predecessors such as Mexican-born Frida Kahlo, who studied medical illustration and incorporated biological details into paintings like Henry Ford Hospital (1932) and Without Hope (1945). And Los Angeles artist Lezley Saar, whose 2004 Monad Series combines images of Victorian women, the velvet depths of outer space, and brilliantly hued cells, all ultimately inspired by Baroque philosopher Gottfried Leibniz's metaphysical ideas.

Another art historical antecedent is the early modernist French painter Henri Matisse, who used saturated, non-local color for expressive purposes. Matisse's The Red Studio (1911) transformed his workspace into a whirling crimson maelstrom much like Cudra's brilliant Hysteria, the intensely red room that mixes Versailles-like extravagance with digital imagery. (Think Louis XIV running rampant through the halls of Pixar.)

Although adamantly rooted in the technological, Cudra's art nonetheless achieves a spiritual resonance. Viewers are reminded that we all share this fragile vessel called the body--and that, as American poet Walt Whitman said, "If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred."

Viewers are also reminded that the technological is [now] part of who we are. It emerges from us and extends us. As Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg asserts, "Technology is us. There is no separation. It's a pure expression of human creative will." Cronenberg's words are a perfect epigram for Cudra Clover's spectacular art.

 

Betty Ann Brown is an art historian, critic, and curator. Longtime professor at California State University Northridge, she is now Faculty Emeritus. Brown's most recent curatorial project is "Memory & Identity: The Marvelous Art of Betye, Lezley & Alison Saar" (Museum of Art & History, Lancaster, CA, 2018). Brown has published hundreds of critical reviews and exhibition catalogues. Her most recent book is Afternoons with June, Stories of June Wayne's Art & Life (New York, Midmarch Arts Press, 2012.)