Of late, the vinyl record has been a useful embodiment of a wider cultural nostalgia for America's bygone eras. Oakland-based artist Jeanne Lorenz's second solo show at The Compound Gallery (1167 65th St., Oakland), Songs in the Key of Life and Death, is a series of paintings and wall installations that are neatly obsessed with the vinyl record and the zenith of American anthem rock. The pieces abide by a deep sense of organization, even when evoking a concept as boundless as sound and as messy as popular culture. The artworks — which took three months in all to create — stem from Lorenz's personal fascination with the seemingly incongruous worlds of Jewish mysticism and rock history.
Her project betrays an artistic neurosis reminiscent of the ambitious, multi-part compositions she honors, namely Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." For "Stairway to Heaven," the first painting to greet visitors on the central wall, Lorenz starts with ten songs. Each is mapped as a point in the Jewish Kabbalistic cosmological form of the Sefirot — a Tree of Life symbol that looks a bit like a five-person game of cat's cradle. Lorenz matched each song to a specific sefirah, or "incarnation," depending on theme and tone. "Eternity" is Queen's "We Are the Champions"; "Love" is REO Speedwagon's "Keep on Loving You"; "Power" is AC/DC's "Back in Black." You get the idea.
Lorenz's "musical awakening" came in the Eighties, and the show reflects her progression from hard rock to more derivative, popular rock (like Night Ranger's "Sister Christian") to new wave.
Songs picks up where Lorenz's last vinyl record-themed show, American Vinyl, left off in May 2011, but heads in a less literal direction. The Sefirot — repeated throughout the show — offers Lorenz a flexible framework in which to explore music geometrically and iconographically. Her works deal with the abstractions of sound and its waning physicality: White impasto circles in place of the traditional black vinyl suggest the de-materialization of music.
All this theoretical headiness is soothed by the show's pleasing synesthesia, which needs little interpretation and makes the entire project highly accessible to the casual art lover. The pieces celebrate the powerful simplicity inherent in the circle; the texture of fabric, oil, and acrylic imitate the grooves of a record. The mind meditates on a song suggested by a painting, then the eye catches a glimpse of a complex pattern lurking beneath. The shades of blue seem to ripple.
In fact, much of the show is dominated by blue — cadet, cobalt, cornflower, cerulean. Why? "I'm a Democrat," said Lorenz, adding that blue also lends itself to the idea of infinite space. Blue is both galactic and submarine, and while neither realm — outer space or deep sea — is particularly amenable to human life, Lorenz's world is, perhaps because it is so playfully invested in that distinctly human enterprise of music-making — and sense-making. Songs in the Key of Life and Death runs through December 16. 510-601-1702 or TheCompoundGallery.com