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January, 2004

Richard Shaw, "Artist's House of Cards,"
2003, glazed porcelain with underglaze
transfers and overglaze decals, 13 x 8 1/2".
Associated with the Bay Area's long links to figurative traditions, to the Funk Movement, and finally to a love for the ceramics medium, Richard Shaw is one of the best known proponents of West Coast Pop and tromp l'oeil realism. Made from highly complex firing and transfer techniques --these works sport complex over and under glaze decalling--all the pieces have that slightly "off," unslick and alluring vibe associated with Bay Area art of the 1960s. This weighs against the amazing porcelain-thin skill required to coyly render oragami toy ships aloft yummy looking pastry. You will be charmed by wry high art/low art comments in precious china teapots fashioned to ape wedding desserts featuring estranged wax couples. You will have a great time marveling at other quirky Popish edibles topped with trinkets, or faux teapots stacked on books whose pages you will swear are so real you'll want to turn them. His signature House of Cards works are also here, as are several remarkable large scale works that fill out the show (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Herbert Hamak’s works occupy the space between painting and sculpture. Each of the monochromatic works appears like a vertical line that intersects the wall. Made from binding agents, resins and pigment and attached to a linen base, the works glow and reflect the light. The layers of pigment float in the resin container, creating variations in shape and form. No two pieces are alike and when seen together the subtle differences in luminosity and saturation become evident. In addition to the wall mounted sculptures, Wet Column is an eight-foot high floor-based work that combines Hamak’s signature materials with a flow of running water. The water adds a dynamic element, illuminating the pigments even as it flows over them (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

Herbert Hamak, "Untitled," 2003,
pigment and binding agent, stainless
steel, pump, 96 x 6 3/4 x 6 3/4"

Henry Wessel, "Las Vegas No. 3,"
2000, chromogenic print, 37 1/8 x 45 1/8".
Henry Wessel’s images of Las Vegas depict unpopulated hallways and empty hotel rooms. His image of the bustling city is one of contemplation and alienation, not one of spectacle. Wessel photographs this Las Vegas in the quiet hours of the night. He captures artificially lit hallways, waiting rooms, as well as parking lots that do not glimmer in the limelight. Rather than depict its in tourists, Wessel shows us where the resident population of the city dwells. As in earlier works, Wessel is interested in the social topology of the landscape. These vibrantly colorful works succeed in portraying a profile of Las Vegas that is not normally seen (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Dirk Hagner's art exemplifies the best of woodblock printing, a medium that has been part of the German repertoire since the 16th century. In the tradition of Albrecht Dürer, and later such Expressionists as Ernst Kirchner, German-born Hagner displays a virtuosity for carving fine lines in wood that are transformed into superb prints rarely seen today. The mastery of his hand is such that at times it seems as if the work was crafted in previous centuries. The artist is drawn to faces of people of renown, particularly those who share his philosophy of freedom and creativity---writers, musicians, actors, and scientists.

Dirk Hagner, "Klaus Kinski," 2003, 4-color
reduction woodcut print, 24 x 22 1/2".
Bertoldt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Gwendolyn Brook, and Richard Fineman are among his 20th century heroes. Hagner translates the brilliance of his subjects and their timeless contributions to humanity into intense facial expressions that are sensitively composed on beautiful handmade paper. One feels that Hagner approaches each portrait as if the subject is still alive, and his work keeps it so (Old Town Gallery, Orange County).

Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston, "Carl
Sandburg," 1921, platinum/palladium print.

Edward Weston, "Prologue to
a Sad Spring," ca. 1919,
platinum/palladium print.
Edward Weston destroyed the journals documenting his life before 1925, so it is difficult to piece together all of the details of the working and personal relationship he had with Margrethe Mather in the preceding decade, after which he left her for Mexico and Tina Modotti. If Imogen Cunningham’s photo of Mather with Weston is any clue, the woman with eyes closed, arching back over Weston’s shoulder, has every right to be what Weston claimed, “the first important person in my life." In the exhibition A Passionate Collaboration you can see how Mather influenced Weston with her beautifully arranged, pared down compositions and sensuous use of light, texture and Japanese aesthetics. Max Eastman credits Mather with posing him on the sand dunes in a series of pictures that, along others produced in 1921(including an asymmetrically balanced image of Carl Sandburg on the Los Feliz Blvd. Bridge), were co-signed with Weston. The Eighty-five photographs on view, mostly by Mather and Weston, pay tribute to the people who shared their lives: lovers, celebrities, artists, dancers, and bohemians. Mather’s photograph Weston on the Stairs holds its own against any of the romantic images he made of her and leaves us yearning to know more about this mysterious woman (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara).

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Architecture is a stunning show of large scale black and white images compiled in the course of the artist’s travels all over the world. Sugimoto presents pictures of the icons of 20th-century architecture: the Eiffel Tower, the Guggenheim Museum and other structures by premier architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Tadao Ando, and Le Corbus-ier. Rather than make sharp, crisp images of these buildings, Sugimoto photographed them from odd angles, and always out of focus. The buildings appear to be mysterious, bright shapes emerging from a dark background. Their details and the architectural signatures are nowhere to be found. Rather they glow as enigmatic structures that assert a presence that is demanding in a way that their normal familiarity no longer muster (Art Center College, Williamson Gallery, Pasadena).

Hiroshi Sugimoto, installation view.
Photo: Steven A. Heller.

Fernando Botero, "Una Lesigha,"
2000, o/c, 24 x 16 cm.
Thirty original works by Colombian master Fernando Botero highlight the odd charm and incisive wit of his version of magic realism--that intense, eccentric version of non-linear truth you find in Latin American arts and letters. His signature chubby, sensual figures that look stuffed to the breaking point by the forces of life are readily familiar. He combines knowledge of European art with his very Latin, satirical take on the fine line between the sacred and the profane. You can see this in works such as the sexy, silly Dancers (2001). The show has a wide date range and includes a somewhat detracting sample of posters (Museum of Latin American Art [MoLAA], Long Beach).

My Blue Sky is the title of an enigmatic sound installation by New York-based artist Stephen Vitiello. Vitiello samples urban sounds of Paris and New York, then combines them into atmospheric loops that inhabit the gallery space. Visitors can sit in a circle of comfortable chairs and listen to the work as it permeates the space. The Parisian sounds are associated with Samuel Beckett's grave and the Roman-era catacombs under the city. These are fused with continuous street sounds gathered from outside the windows of Vitiello's studio in New York. In addition to the central installation, another sound work is placed in the alley outside the gallery comprised of sounds sampled from a glider ride over Marfa, Texas (The Project, Downtown).

Stephen Vitiello, "Light Reading(s)," 2002,
installation, Foundation Cartier, Paris.
Photo: Goran Vejvoda

Daniela Rossell, "Untitled (Ricas y
famosas)," 2001, C-print, 50 x 60".

Rineke Dijkstra, "Stephany, Saint Joseph
Ballet," 2003, C-print, 49 5/8 x 42 1/8".
There’s no “beefcake” from Chippendale’s in Girls’ Night Out, but you will see some full frontal close-ups like Rineke Dijkstra's stark and brutally honest video portrayals of vulnerable teens gyrating to the beat in this exhibition of nearly 80 photo based works created within the last decade. The international roster of ten women artists, invited to deal with themes related to gender, sexuality and its significance in the youth culture, is weighted towards a northern European emphasis on self-consciousness. Dramatic portrayals of emotional pain, rebellion and mental illness infuse the work of Salla Tykkä and Eija-Liisa Ahtila. The alienation and absence that mark the British formality of Sarah Jones’ teenage girls posed in their parents' dining rooms is broadsided by Daniela Rossell’s sumptuous and outrageous images of pampered daughters of Mexico City's nouveau riche and the less riveting, but unexpected normalcy of Shirana Shahbazi’s presentation of new icons of Iranian urban culture (OCMA Newport Beach, Orange County).

Jeff Peters is not afraid to confront issues of beauty, even beauty that may border on corny as an excuse to work with haunting colors and viscerally dynamic moods. He takes as his subject his own Orange County childhood. While skateboarding, making jumps that lifted him high over neighborhood fences, he would be captivated when a tree magically filled with fresh petals or laden with fruit would appear. Now they appear in Peters’ art, depicted with skilled realism, these orange or lemon trees in their yearly cycle of budding, bearing fruit, and dormancy.

Jeff Peters, "Virgil/Ellis,"
2003, o/c, 80 x 80".
Such subject matter could easily become saccharine sweet, illustrative, or greeting card sentimental, but Peters raises the work out of limiting possibilities by a skillful application of paint, intricate compositions, an element of Color Field aesthetic, and a subtlety of depth. The dark tones of the current series also strike an more enigmatic quality than in previous work. Part of an image is in focus, while the rest is slightly blurred and detached. A singular group of lemons thus becomes the protagonist, while a chorus of other lemons, a simple leaf, patterns embossed on a branch, a cluster of leaves play a secondary, background role. There is an ethereal grandeur as a close-up of a tree and its fruits both fade into the distance even as they thrust towards us. This deceptively gentle sense of space, heightened by just the right use of color, draws you in with almost a spellbinding appeal (Peter Blake Gallery, Orange County).

Morris & Company, John Henry Dearle,
"Drawing for Golden Lily Wallpaper" (detail),
c. 1897, watercolor and graphite on paper.
The notion that craft is high art when it is executed with the same due diligence and passion descends to a great extent from 19th century English artist/designer William Morris--his practice and his theory. A wonderful, not to be missed show of Morris’ contributions--his own and those of his immediate circle--includes over 200 objects ranging from ceramics to book designs, from incredible dyed textiles put out by Morris and Company to wall paper tinted by hand. There is a ten-panel glass window by Morris' equally famous assistant, Edward Burne Jones that is a jaw dropper. A utopian socialist, Morris envisioned these objects produced by unions of enlightened artisans at Ikea prices, and available to all. . . .what a thought. As we buy our discount stuff with its planned trajectory into the landfill it's nice to imagine private and public spaces filled with thoughtful, artfulobjects such as these (Huntington Library Art Galleries, Pasadena).