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September 13 - November 9, 2007 at Gallery C, South Bay

by Ray Zone

With a wide-ranging and perhaps overly eclectic display of various media, “CalAsia” is a group exhibition that showcases over sixty years of work by multiple generations of California Asian artists. This exhibit, curated by Chip Tom, exemplifies the concept of the “Pacific Rim,” with Western artists looking East; but that is an issue with increasing irrelevance. About the only thematic link between the various works is that the artists are all Asian and reside in California. Though the gallery states the work of the younger artists on view relates to cultural assimilation, it seems to be a given and hardly a point worth belaboring with art as immediate and generally strong as this.  Who cares about the ethnicity of the artists if the work stands on its own?

An installation by Aragna Ker is designed to illustrate the importance of empty space in Asian art. A cutout figure of a kimono-clad woman holding an umbrella is perched on a table. She makes obeisance to a series of cutout wall-mounted clouds across the floor. With their capriciously tumbling outlines and lyrical forms, the clouds reference calligraphic painting--the equivocal reference to honoring an Asian past is left open enough, but it is obvious.  Arthur Ou’s powerful installation, titled “Earth Works,” is contemporary in the extreme and highly dramatic.  It suggests a calligraphic lyricism that is overwhelmed by writhing forces of nature.

Tyrus Wong, born in 1910, is the oldest among the artists exhibiting. Wong has had an illustrious career as an artist at Walt Disney Company, illustrator for Hallmark and Reader’s Digest, and porcelain painter for Winfield Pottery. The piece here, titled “Horse Plate,” is evidence of a calligraphic mastery of the brush that continues with great force even now. The tactile presence of the brush and the spontaneity of calligraphy are also present in Bay Area artist Ruth Asawa’s painting “Plane Trees.” [Asawa was recently featured in solo exhibitions at the Japanese American National Museum and Tobey C. Moss Gallery—Ed]

Aragna Ker, "When the Time Comes
(Do You Still Know the Fragility of
Existence?), 2006, mixed media.

Arthur Ou, Untitled (Earth-
works 1),” 2007, selenium
toned gelatin silver print.

Tyrus Wong, "Prancing
Horse," c. 1950, painted
glazed earthenware.

Benny Chan, “90035,”
2007, lightjet print.

Jung Eun Park "Paper
Menagerie," 2006, color pencil
and watercolor on paper.
The calligraphic impulse, capturing the essence of a thing with a simple line, is also conjoined to considerations of empty space in the paintings of Emily Cheng. In two images, “Cloud Tree II” and “Lotus Court,” Cheng encircles organic forms in swirls of kinetic lines and volumes.

Architectural photographer Benny Chan shows recent color work from a series dealing with laundromats. “Looking at Laundromats,” he writes, “I wanted to convey this unexpected stark beauty, as well as a sense of social isolation we feel looking at these structures. The spaces seem to be trapped in time, and. . .even when the spaces are crowded with people, you still feel that they are inherently lonely places.” Chan frames the cool fluorescent illumination of the laundromat within an engulfing nocturnal darkness. Looking at them, one inevitably thinks of the paintings of Edward Hopper, at least in terms of conveying individual isolation within the American landscape.

Ji Sun Kim’s work stands alone among the works here. It could be called “Classic Optical” painting, if there is such a thing. This hard edge painting is unambiguously in the Western tradition. Kim has certainly moved beyond assimilation, cultural or otherwise. His revisiting of an art form that peaked in the 1960s attempts to invest a dated visual genre with vitality and energy. Jung Eun Park’s wall relief paintings and objects display fragility and fixation on the passage of time. This work takes nature as a starting point for philosophical considerations of mortality and beauty. It's one thing to make a painting, and quite another action to hang a cut melon on the gallery wall. The artistic enunciation in either case, of course, is all about the process. You can question the validity of Park’s materials with regards to their transience, but not the purity of his intent. He seems to want to arrest life itself.