Lavi Daniel, born in Los Angeles, attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 1972-73. His exhibition, New California Artist XI: Lavi Daniel, was organized at the Orange County Museum of Art in 1987 before it traveled to the Honolulu Academy of Arts. He has also exhibited at the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Santa Monica Museum of Art and an extensive survey was organized by Anne Ayres for the Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena which included an extensive catalogue.
Daniel is an accomplished garden designer, which certainly influences his paintings even while he is painting abstractly. Most recently, a series of his paintings were inspired by the costume and dance of the bird of paradise from Paqua New Guinea. A dance of perpetuity that serves as a prompt to make abstract paintings out of colored patterned sequences.
Gardening with Australian and South African plants create a textured layer of artistic looks
I was recently privileged to visit the garden of Lavi Daniel in Cheviot Hills. Daniel has aesthetically assembled an astonishing collection of Australian and South African native plants.
A studio artist accustomed to applying paint to canvas, Daniel has creatively combined trees, shrubs and ground covers to create a memorable floral and foliar quilt that wraps around his house. Having examined some of his current artistic renderings, it would appear that there is a symbiotic relationship — or perhaps I should say cross-pollination — between his horticultural design and graphic art. At least one of his paintings conjures up the image of a kaleidoscopic, if not yet hybridized, grevillea flower.
We are accustomed to demanding floral gratification from our plants, yet many Australian and South African natives could make a strong case for foliar focus in the garden. Blue pearlbush (Maireana sedifolia) is an excellent example of this. Silvery blue, roundish leaves are held tightly along the stem. Blue pearlbush is a tough plant, capable of handling most soil types and accepting full sun to partial shade, depending on how hot your summer waxes. It is also tolerant of cold temperatures down to 20 degrees.
Eucalyptus is probably the best known Australian genus of plants and it has many outstanding representatives with baby blue to silvery foliage. In Daniel’s garden, a young Eucalyptus macrocarpa is showing its chalky white leaves, while a Eucalyptus kruseana displays blue-gray shish kebab foliage along with golden yellow flowers.
Daniel has a fondness for burgundy bronze foliage too, as is evidenced in his recently planted Leucadendron ‘Burgundy,’ as well as in a mature, arching burgundy-copper peppermint tree (Agonis flexuosa ‘Jervis Bay Afterdark’). The yellow, orange, pink and red variegation in the leaves and bracts of his Leucadendron ‘Jester’ is a pleasant surprise.
When it comes to tactile attraction, the woollybushes (Adenanthos spp.) have no comparison. Furry foliage covers these plants, which include ground cover, shrub and arboreal species. Banksia flowers, large and prickly, offer a textural contrast.
Of all the plants in Daniel’s garden, the one making the deepest impression on me was Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt.’ This charming, mounding ground cover will undulate its way through a garden bed if not beyond. I immediately wondered if ‘Cousin Itt’ might be used as a lawn substitute under certain circumstances — not as a surface upon which to play croquet, but simply as a drought-tolerant expanse of green.
Here, a short lesson in horticultural nomenclature and geobotany is in order:
Virtually all of Daniel’s plants belong to the Protea family. Protean means changeable or capable of many different forms and, based on both floral and foliar variation among his plants, it is eminently understandable how their family name came about. The principal garden-worthy Proteas native to Australia include Banksia, Grevillea and Hakea genera, while the Leucadendron and Leucospermum genera are indigenous to South Africa.
As for trees, Eucalyptus are native strictly to Australia, while Acacias, while drought tolerant in the garden, are indigenous to both wet and dry climate regions around the globe, from Australia to Africa to the American Southwest. Acacias also appear in shrub and ground cover forms.
Daniel was intent on artistically matching, layering and contrasting his plants, not only with one another, but with existing hardscape as well. In one whimsical flourish, he decided to plant a Grevillea ‘Magic Lantern’ above a red street curb, the plant’s flower color perfectly matching the paint on the curb.
Daniel brought my attention to the fact that the familiar garden ornamental known as pink breath of heaven or Diosma (Coleonema pulchrum), a South African native, emits a fragrance when you brush against its leaves. I had always wondered about the breath of heaven label since its flowers have no scent. The key to appreciation of this species is to plant it, as Daniel has done, along a pathway so that each time you walk by you brush against its foliage and imbibe its delicate perfume.
While touring his garden, Daniel kept mentioning Jo O’Connell, from whose nursery he procures both his plants and the mulch he uses in his garden. With Australian and South African natives, proper mulching is key to maintaining a steady diet of available minerals since any sort of conventional fertilizer should not be applied. These plants require a slow, steady feed of decomposing compost and humus.
Australian soil is low in phosphorus and South African soil is low in both phosphorus and potassium, so standard fertilizers, which contain these elements, would be counterproductive. O’Connell recommends two products — Garden Humus and ES-2 — that are available through Agromin (www.agromin.com), a mulch and soil amendment company in Oxnard.
Aside from annual mulching, Daniel waters his plants with conventional spray sprinklers once a week, and occasionally twice a week during very hot weather.
O’Connell has a nursery (www.australianplants.com) near Ojai. She grows hundreds of species that neither you nor I have ever seen. Go to her website and you will quickly appreciate the vast cornucopia of treasures to be found among Australian and South African plants. Her nursery is open to the public, but you must make an appointment if you wish to pay a visit.
Art review: Lavi Daniel, Grant Mudford at Rosamund Felsen Gallery
If you look at the art in the exhibitions you visit before reading the wall labels, you will probably think that the show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery is a three-artist effort. Its paintings, sculptures and photographs do not resemble one another. Made of different materials, in distinct manners and far-flung attitudes, each seems committed to goals all its own.
But individual pieces speak to each other. With a little patience you sense that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A quick glance at the wall labels adds a curious ripple: the exhibition presents works by only two artists.
The entryway and two east galleries are occupied by 12 intimately scaled paintings and five tabletop sculptures by Lavi Daniel. His oils on canvas and linen are the best he has made. Solid, muscular and brushed into existence with a perfunctory, get-it-done-quickly vigor, each is also dreamy and elusive: a lovely symphony of subtly modulated organic tints quietly electrified by otherworldly light.
Daniel’s sculptures are crusty lumps, patiently built from blobs of paint scraped from his studio floor over the last seven years. Think of a haystack in a painting by Monet rendered in 3-D by a ham-fisted model-builder.
In the west gallery, medium-size photographs by Grant Mudford fill your eyes with highly controlled explosions of color, texture and shape. These exquisitely printed pictures of the small garden surrounding Daniel’s studio stop time and expand space. Each intensifies the visual deliciousness of every detail, celebrating the singular beauty of each leaf, frond and blossom; branch, blade and petal; plank, tile and pebble.
Mudford’s photographs function as stepping stones between Daniel’s paintings and sculptures. Together, the three bodies of work take you on a trip that is not very long yet filled with endless possibility.
Images, from top: Lavi Daniel, "I Wanted to Wonder..." 2010-11; Grant Mudford, "Garden 5," 2011. Credit: Rosamund Felsen Gallery
Lavi Daniel at Rosamund Felsen Gallery
It's a curious mix that Lavi Daniel conjures in painting and sculpture. Both are about density but in very different ways. The paintings use light to push some shapes forward while others dangle in space. Forms are a cross between organic and geometric which adds to the ambiguity of their existence as something tangible. There is the feel of light coming over the horizon, a shelf that recedes into a crevice in a cave, a rock formation that juts from a wall.
These things are only alluded to, while color is cool and vibrant, something you might come across in wanderings where the average human does not tread. The sculptures are surprising because they are mud-like masses, a shrub that has mutated thickly with unnatural color. Where the paintings shimmer and visually hint at depth, the sculptures are dense and visceral, irresistible, they beg you to touch them, feel them, roll around with them.
While the color in the paintings is very ordered, the three-dimensionality of the corpulent masses of the sculptures are messes of color mixtures. They seem to encase every color nature has provided the eye with and then go onto experiment with various mergings and contrasts. It is especially interesting viewing when you look at a sculpture that is paired with a painting in relief. The juxtaposition of the two creates high contrast yet also adds to the complexity of each.
There’s absolutely no postmodern layers of self-reflexive irony to be overcome to appreciate the work of Lavi Daniel. A midcareer survey of the local, mostly self-taught painter’s painter at the Armory — guest curated by longtime fan Anne Ayres — traces his progression through several distinct, and distinctly earnest, phases over the past 24 years, ranging from the montagelike, verging-on-abstraction representational work of the mid-’80s to his recent bravura monumental oils on canvas depicting loopy, vaguely architectural structures that articulate complex illusionistic space without actually crossing the line into illusionism. En route he visits hazy, luminous geometries, hovering iridescent pastel voids and confident ink-wash grids. While each period yields up treasures — the trumpet-feet-curtain combo (all of the artist’s works are untitled) of 1988; the Chinese-takeout-containers-in-the-mist from 1997 — Daniel has clearly hit his stride in the last couple of years, synthesizing the type of linear spatial abstractions familiar to the work of Terry Winters and Brice Marden into something wholly original and uniquely Angeleno. An additional 27 examples of the virtuosic ink-wash drawings are also on view at Bobbie Greenfield’s.