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Art

Las Vegas photographer Linda Alterwitz shares her medically infused work in her first hometown solo show

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Linda Alterwitz’s “Untitled #16” from In-Sight, currently on display at Trifecta Gallery.

Artist Linda Alterwitz is explaining how her work is meant to bring forth those times we don’t have control, when she stops and concedes, “What am I talking about? We never have control.

“There’s no avoiding what comes your way. It’s the way you navigate it. It’s all about balance.”

Though the brain tumor Alterwitz was diagnosed with several years ago didn’t solely determine this philosophy, it was, she says, the catalyst, “the thing that threw me off balance.” It then became the transformational element in her work when, two years after the tumor was removed, Alterwitz began using medical imagery in her art, inspired by her own MRIs.

“At first it was a healing type of thing,” she says. “You go to art to understand things. But from there I started using all kinds of medical imagery. Friends, people would donate imagery to me. I healed pretty quickly, but this project kept going.”

Today it plays a key role in Alterwitz’s work, including pieces that overlay PET scans and dreamlike photographs of landscapes, a juxtaposition of the familiar and comfortable with the “fear of the unknown,” represented by ghost-like silhouettes of medical imagery. The sometimes eerie, otherworldly tone brings an odd sense of beauty, unfinished thoughts and fleeting moments.

Her photography has been shown in LA, out East and in Europe, but In-Sight, her solo photography show opening June 3 at Trifecta Gallery, is her first in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas resident had been raising her family here and was a painter (she received her MFA in 1984 from the University of Denver) until she realized she’d grown bored with the medium.

Linda Alterwitz uses medical imagery in her art, inspired by her own MRIs.

Linda Alterwitz uses medical imagery in her art, inspired by her own MRIs.

“It wasn’t moving my mind anymore,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ and a light was coming in through the shutters onto a painting—light on color. I thought, ‘This is cooler than my painting.’”

Painting still influences Alterwitz’s work; she says it’s how she sees. Her manipulation of the imagery often has a painter-like quality. A large, translucent eyeball—the lines of its veins interacting with an overlaid photograph taken at Red Rock—has a wash look from a clear shield that moves ink. A canine X-ray appears like an outline of a mountain in a minimalist, hazy landscape. A diptych inspired by chef Kerry Simon, now battling MSA (multiple system atrophy), features a glowing white image of a brain scan with thin lines running across the piece—its sense of motion depicting the disease’s aggressive pace.

Alterwitz also blends, contrasts and juxtaposes medical imagery of bodies with crisp patterns, lace and fabric in intense works. Like the landscapes, they present a haunting and misty tone that evokes a sense of time and beauty and mystery. Breaking it down, Alterwitz says, “This is what we are inside and this is where we live.”

A new series, “Just Breathe” (slated for a February show at the Studio at the Sahara West Library), features portraits of people lying flat on their backs under the sky in low, ambient light. As each person lies still, Alterwitz places a camera on his or her chest, sets the shutter to open for 30 seconds and tells her subject, “Just breathe.” The motion of the chest captures stars oscillating and tree lines blurring to create individual portraits from the way, she says, the physiological body movement determines the movement of the stars. They will make up an installation of 60 20-inch panels.

“The installation as a whole is what it’s about,” she says, referencing the connectivity between all of us and the universe. “They don’t really work alone.”

The star portraits were the result of a tipped-over tripod on a night beach in the Dominican Republic, when she and her husband were vacationing. Alterwitz wanted to do long exposures to capture the motion of the waves while everything else was still. When the tripod fell, she saw how the digital screen presented the stars—she then set it on her chest, and then her husband’s, and the series was born.

“I enjoy experimenting,” she says, adding that she likes the “what ifs.” It’s the same curiosity that led to working with medical imagery and also to a series of works she created with a borrowed thermal camera that captures heat radiation within the body, creating a thermal portrait. With her experimenting comes creative and intellectual processing. In her work, she strives for that balance between logic and dream states, art and science and the left and right sides of the brain.

“I love the gray area, because it gives people the ability to interpret how they want.”

In-Sight Through July 27; Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Trifecta Gallery, 702-366-7001.

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Kristen Peterson joined the Las Vegas Sun in 1998 as a general assignment reporter. In 2003, she turned her focus ...

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