Pamela Birmingham, Vuk Cosic, Linda Ekstrom, Michael Joaquin Grey, Wolfgang Herbold, John Himmelfarb, Linda Hutchins, Yeal Kanarek, Stephanie Lempert, Stefana McClure, Dan Miller, Greg Milne, Megan Murphy, Larissa Nowicki, Mike Patten, Ed Ruscha, Duston Spear, Mark Lawrence Stafford, Jill Sylvia, Masako Takahashi, Cody Trepte

Curated by Mark Carter

February 14 – March 21, 2009
Opening: Saturday, February 21, 6:00-9:00 pm

A project of Santa Monica Art Studios
3026 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 397-7456
Web site,
Gallery Hours: Wednesday - Saturday, 12-6 pm

left to right: Pamela Birmingham, Larissa Nowicki, Greg Milne, Linda Hutchins

Arena 1 Gallery is pleased to present “Illiterature”, a group exhibition curated by Mark Carter, which will present works in various media that utilize text and text‐like imagery for visual, graphic, illustrative and contemplative ends rather than a literal dialog.

Humans develop the propensity to recognize and read text in childhood. Our malleable brain, when introduced to the composition of written language, imprints the concept that symbols scribed in lines ought to be read. Language is one of our inventions and essential in a socially organized species enabling communication to be preserved and to evolve trans‐tribally. Calligraphic imagery became the basis for encoding references.

These artists enjoy exploiting our brain’s intent to make this association. Linear meanderings incite tension as we strain to make sense of what we see. Doodles are read as possible hieroglyphic icons. And true text, visually comforting because of its familiarity, has become classic compositional tools of illusion as well as illustration. Perhaps the range of subject types from the absolute of the landscape and portrait through abstraction and minimalism needs to expand and include nouns and verbs. While it’s clear that these artists exhibit a love of language, they prefer to keep it at arms length.

Michael Joaquin Grey begins each day with a listening practice producing drawings to record the experience; autonomic and meditative. Equally personal, Masako Takahashi embroiders character‐like symbols from human hair onto silk. Drawing from mathematics’ Fibonacci Sequence, the works vacillate between language‐like characters and repetitive symbols implying an unattainable order. Chicago artist John Himmelfarb constructs rows of recognizable pattern and characters that obey written language’s adherence to line while containing symbols of primitive evocation. Also evocative of textual construction, Pamela Birmingham wanders the divide between image and text creating musically lyrical drawings.

Sometimes text is best represented in its absence. Ed Ruscha seemingly contradicts his more familiar textbased works by removing all signs of it from normally text-rich objects. Using found ledger paper, Jill Sylvia removes and reassembles creating visual sleight-of-hands: content here-format there.

Subtlety and slow motion infuse Megan Murphy and Linda Ekstrom’s images with their aqueous associations. Ekstrom’s Wreadings are simultaneously read and transcribed passages from works by Edmund Jabes and Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘recent’ Speak Memory. Like Michael Joaquin Grey’s practice, the images self‐generate from their literary origin through a somewhat disjointed hand. Murphy begins with video stills of the Columbia River, mounts them between silver and plex and applies oil paints and text which are then selectively sanded. What remains are memories, partially accurate and open to interpretation. Duston Spear makes collage‐like paintings incorporating excerpts from the poems of Stephen Crane over‐painted with contemporary images both literal and obscured that create an ancient versus graffiti tableau.

Some artists are willing to maintain their connection with text as conversation while keeping their focus on visualization. Stephanie Lempert traveled around New York’s diverse neighborhoods recording conversations and documenting the surroundings with photographs. Her final images are made of extracted-text reduced images. Creative Growth Art Center artist Dan Miller layers words and images, building and obliterating, illustrating his obsessions. Greg Milne prints microscopic text ranging from banal lists to chronographic codes utilizing colors in a manner that presents the works as hypercontemporary tapestries. From Milne’s sublime to an almost banal choice of a commonly typed phrase, Mark Lawrence Stafford shifts and composes the page to transform it into dense yet staccato landscapes. Equally ephemeral, Mike Patten writes brief thoughts or streams of consciousness onto a Palm Pilot. Then, illustrating our tendency to self‐edit, he partially erases them without complete obliteration. These reduced and almost exorcised thoughts are then printed making the almost discarded permanent. Also reductive but differently sourced, Wolfgang Herbold scans historic comic book covers then digitally begins to selectively strip elements from them leaving a 50’s-Modern tableau.

Text is used and reused in Larissa Nowicki’s reweaving of lines of text literally stripped from myriad books and reassembled to re‐create an imagined mental fabric flowing into and out of our conscious forefront. Similarly, Yael Kanarek creates a crochet‐like web incorporating a single word translated into numerous languages including the English, Hebrew and Arabic of her Israeli home. There, like a traveler’s journey, conversations of similar text overlap and superimpose in time and memory. Conversely, interpretation and transformation lie at the heart of Cody Trepte’s computer‐based piece which randomly reassembles the lines of a John Cage reformulation of Finnegans Wake, reinserting chance into the his text. The result is a ‘writing through a writing’ of a text that is largely considered unreadable.

Finally, Linda Hutchins and Stefana McClure both literally hammer home their point. Hutchins types a word or short phrase repeatedly, extending her text into a potential infinity on a paper scroll. McClure, using gloves specially fitted with IBM Selectric ‘golf ball’ elements, creates percussion drawings to select musical scores bringing imagery to the fury of sound.

ARENA 1 is an exhibition space founded by Santa Monica Art Studios directors Yossi Govrin and Sherry Frumkin. Based in an historic hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, ARENA 1 invites internationally known as well as newly established curators to develop innovative and compelling exhibitions.

Return to Gallery Pages