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Les Ayre
by Bryan Burkey

Les Ayre, "Untitled (Golf)", 1996
Les Ayre, "Untitled (Mardi Gras)", 1996

The desire to hold; the desire to contain; the desire to reveal and the desire to hide, ultimately building to the desire of desire itself--this is the bass note of Les Ayres' "Lead Pieces."

I first encountered Ayres' work at the Gramercy Hotel International Show in the form of lead letters, pieces of lead formed into envelopes encasing old love letters. These were spread out on a bedside table in the hotel room. The implicit expression of the need to contain an explicit expression of desire fascinates. In the same way that the old love letters are wrapped, folded and contained by the lead, the danger and possibility contained in them is rendered impotent, and the letters may then reenter the world as safe little missives removed from their initial need to sway.

The precedent to wrap and transform the wrapped object is broad and varied, from Meret Oppenheim's fur-lined cup to Christo's covered buildings. However, the work most closely related to the recent "Lead Pieces" by Les Ayres are Yves Klein's gold leaf paintings of 1960, in which, hammered and prepared surfaces were meticulously covered and transformed by gold leaf. Still, while Klein's paintings could illuminate a room with a warm ethereal light, Ayres' lead paintings suck the light out of a room with the pall of possible death and gray gloom. Technically, Ayre wraps plywood and selected objects with lead. In untitled (ukulele), Ayre uses one half of the body of a ukulele mounted low and adjoining along the bottom edge. In untitled (mardi gras) we encounter a rift on division and boundaries. Here, Ayre has placed a broken necklace straight down the center with just the slightest of curves, creating two large flat areas of lead nearly equal in size on either side. Ayre is able to achieve the unified field of Klein and adds to it an awareness of her own issues and experiences. Her straight forward manner is well-suited to the means with which she has chosen to work.

In water symbol, Ayre takes on the multipanel genre, but unfortunately, not as enthusiastically. The piece is made up of nine small squares running diagonally, each with a lump in the center. The panels are placed next to each other forming a running border, with two panels making the V of a chevron. The work is a disappointment because Ayre never challenges any of the basic tenets of pattern and decoration.

The work compiled for this show ranged from the sexually and physically charged to coolly contemplative reflections on corrosion and the power of a good patina. The piece untitled (golf) is of the latter group. In this painting Ayre uses various chemicals and weathering techniques to make different oxidation and stain patterns on the lead, creating an abstract landscape. In the more charged category would be the painting untitled (sex beads). As the name implies, Les Ayre has taken a string of beads designed for anal sex and attached them to a piece of plywood, then covering the entire creation in lead, hammering it down around the "sex beads" in a way that both buries and reveals. She thus borrows form from the original purpose to titillate and provoke.

By adding the barrier of deadly metal between the viewer and the object imagined, it brings the specter of the grim reaper to the stage in a both subtle and blatant way. There is a disconcerting feeling, being in a room filled with so many objects covered in a poison benign when untouched. Yet when touched and subsequently ingested, the poison goes to work on the central nervous system, breaking down and disconnecting the pathways that hold and form memory. It is this untouchable aspect of memory that Ayre is most involved in. She creates a wonderful allegory for the nature of buried memory and the outline that is always left.

Bryan Burkey

New York, New York
1996

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