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Sculptor Matthew Picton's stunning new works layer religious imagery over maps to boggle the spirit.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIZABETH LEACH GALLERY - Matthew Picton's "New Delhi #1 'The Age of Kali' is on display at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.Matthew Picton has long used maps as the basis for his explorations of history and space. Check out his Seattle map in Meta'sSeattle office, it's very meta.

His latest work is a series of precise yet chaotic 3-D sculptures that focus on religious beliefs and destructive, even apocalyptic urges. His show at Elizabeth Leach Gallery through Oct. 29,{obj:65822:"The Age of Kali, age of Belief"} takes his work to a new level of refinement and rigor.

Most of the pieces are circular images, in frames about 5 feet square and about 4 inches deep. They have three layers. The base layer, at the back of the frame, is a map drawn on paper, in this case of religious places such as New Delhi, Mecca or Jerusalem. The middle layer is an ink image on a type of plastic paper. The layer closest to the viewer is usually meticulously cut paper sandwiched between two sheets of Plexiglas to keep the paper completely flat.

The effect is that your eyes struggle to make out the images and assemble them into three planes. As you move your head they line up in different ways, an optical illusion that makes conscious the act of seeing.

The Hindu goddess Kali is the destroyer of evil forces and the divine protector, also worshipped as the preserver of nature. The Age of Kali is our own cycle of rampant discord. Mark your Google calendars, it's due to be completed by 2070, a timeline that loosely parallels Christian history since the birth of Christ, one that has encompassed fantastic beauty and dispiriting savagery.

Picton is interested in strong religious beliefs, spirituality and the violence that comes with them.

"New Delhi #1, The Age of Kali" looks like a giant planet covered in spikes, with lots of red and yellow, and images of fire, clouds and water. The image of the goddess Kali has been multiplied and cut through with other forms, including a stormy landscape of thunder clouds in a swirling vortex.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIZABETH LEACH GALLERY - Matthew Picton's "Hajj, Mecca" now at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.

Mapping history

The base layer is a map showing the seven cities of New Delhi, India, whose seven former cities exist as ruin, mausoleums, mosques and monuments.

"They punctuate the Delhi megalopolis of today, and then there's the central concentric (form of) the British imperial city, which was the center of the British Empire," Picton told Pamplin Media Group. At the center of that is the viceroy's house, which is now the Indian presidential house known as Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Picton backed the images of the mosques and monuments in gold leaf and then preserved them in a clear overlay so that the light can come through the piece from the back.

Fifteen years ago his graphic love of maps changed when Picton discovered maps of Berlin from the 1920s and 1930s. Like a lot of Brits, he started exploring German history. "I am breaking away from the map, it's becoming less of a central feature of my work," he explained.

However, "maps are a world of imagination." He likes how they stimulate imagination and memory. "To me, (a map) allows for an appreciation of topography and landscape at the same time."

The second Delhi piece, "Age of Kali New Delhi # 2, 1947" is about the year of partition, when thanks to British decolonization, Muslims and Hindus traded places, often killing each other along the way.

"There was an enormous shift in population and incredible turbulence and strife before it settled back down into the current city of New Delhi," he said. Proud Brits used to say, "The sun never sets on the British empire," because it spanned the globe, but here Picton uses orange and pink tones to show that it does.

"It's a very Indian color in some ways as well," he added. He made it from pouring inks on plastic paper and letting them swirl and move around.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIZABETH LEACH GALLERY - Matthew Picton's "The Angels and The Horns."

Like clockwork

The only other map-based work in this show, "Hajj, Mecca" depicts Mecca, the Muslim shrine in Saudi Arabia, on a sea of pea green ink, the color of paradise in Islam. Picton knows New Delhi well, but not being a Muslim, he cannot visit Mecca.

"This piece exemplifies the need to balance the layers. It was very difficult because that surface layer has imagery of the hajj in Mecca and it's actually been cut through with an image of this very famous ceiling from the mosque, which has a rather fabulous and beautiful pattern," he said.

Here the geometric Islamic patterns are almost hypnotic.

Picton is old school, making his intricate paper cutouts by blade rather than by laser. It also gives him time to think and change his mind, whereas a computer would just output a final image and be done. "There's always micro decisions to be made as to thickness of line and bits that are omitted. A machine is just going to do a very methodical (job)."

The layers can look like the cogs in a clock.

Said Picton: "Everything obviously has to be lined up perfectly and mounted to the back and measured very carefully. The front layer has been carefully placed between the two sheets of Plexiglas and put down into the frame, and a space is created. Then the rear-mounted layer is placed in on top and screwed in from the back."

In smaller works he has cut out New York Times front pages that depict the horrors of war in Ukraine. Yet he also takes Albrecht Dürer's woodcut panels from his "Revelations" series and cuts out the white, keeping the thick black lines.

"The angels and the horns" could be about jazz, but it's the angels from Revelations announcing the apocalypse. It draws on the south rose window at Chartres cathedral, the window of the apocalypse. Picton enjoyed mixing imagery from the 1350s, when the windows would have been created, and 1496 when Dürer printed.

"It was interesting to see how the colored forms were going to operate with it with that very graphic woodcut imagery, which is going to fragment what there already was."

The show is a must-see, and bring reading glasses.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIZABETH LEACH GALLERY - This is a sketch by Jeremy Okai Davis that is part of his exhibition at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.

Okai Davis

Also showing at Elizabeth Leach through Oct. 29 is Jeremy Okai Davis' new show "A Good Sport." Davis focuses on Black Americans in the fields of sports and academia who navigated complex ideologies of "sportsmanship" throughout their professional careers. Sports is often the place where white men are most comfortable interacting with Black men. These are some of Davis' largest works and often are taken from photos that show one Black person in a team of whites. From Little League to the men in blazers of college hoops, race is obvious. He also focuses on unrecognized heroes of professional baseball and basketball players, and Kentucky Derby jockeys and college athletes.

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