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October 18 - December 21, 2008 at Huntington Beach Art Center, Orange County

by Daniella Walsh

Jimi Gleason, "Curve," 2008,
acrylic on canvas, 50 x 72".

Stuart Allen, "Batting Statistics, Major
League Baseball, 1970 / Colors:
Red Sox Red, Mustard Melish,
Yandees Blue, Indians Grey"

Travis Collinson,"Behind," 2008, acrylic
on canvas on board, 13 x 11 1/2".

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend but then, Darlene De Angelo, curator at the Huntington Beach Art Center is no ordinary girl. Rather than scanning Tiffany displays, she has her eyes on baseball diamonds. As an art lover as well as avid baseball fan, De Angelo decided to combine her passions and staged “2332,” an exhibition that features nine artists (yes, one for each position) whose work is based on, or at least vaguely inspired by the popular sport.

De Angelo saw her first baseball game at age four and was hooked. Over years of watching games in stadiums and fields, she increasingly noted parallels to art--think chalk gridlines, the blur of colorful uniforms in motion, the patterns in mowed grass, lines of bleachers, pointillist images of cheering fans and the aesthetic appeal of a perfectly stitched baseball. Surrounded by the game’s sights, sounds and smells, she began to see the whole deal as both sporting event and brilliantly composed piece of performance art.

Somewhat nonplussed by her mix of reactions, she found artists, all male to no one’s real surprise, with whom she talked and e-mailed about baseball and its artistic potential.  This was a group whose work at least approximated the images that formed in her own head: The game itself slowly permutated into a secondary concept in relation to its inherent aesthetic possibilities. The foundation for “2332” (standing for two outs, three men on base, three balls and two strikes [for a grand-slam]) thus came into focus.

Jimi Gleason took De Angelo closely at her word and created two perfect diamond-shaped canvasses, distinguished by his signature iridescent color palette. “Fast Ball” is a blue and gold hued painting dissected by geometric grid lines. Over all, one thinks of Dodger blue, but even more, of the unique atmosphere of night games played in community parks across America. “Curve” is even more evocative due to what is left out: looking at his swirl of iridescent clouds one imagines a ball soaring into the bleachers and the homerun that is sure to follow.

Stuart Allen found inspiration for his softly hued digital prints in the endless batting/running stats that might cross an average mortal’s eyes. To add imaginary sensual appeal, he drafted titles such as “Batting Statistics, Major League Baseball, 1970/Colors: Red Sox Red, Mustard, Relish, Yankees Blue, Indians Grey.” This particular print is round, inspired by that ubiquitous little leather orb, of course. Conversely, Dean De Cocker created a relief sculpture formed of flat metal plates replicating baseballs, interspersed by black disks titled “Balls Out.” Then again, De Cocker built a mixed media installation titled “Why I do not play for the Los Angeles Dodgers.” Here we see a BMX bike race in progress, an allusion to his boyhood preference for biking over baseball.

While deploying her team, De Angelo followed her established dictum of leaving them complete freedom to interpret her concept. Consequently, viewers might ponder Travis Collinson’s “Sofa, King, Cool” and “Behind” and be somewhat adrift about its connection to the national pastime. Collinson took the idea of baseball further, equating it with the characteristics and comforts of home, as a constant of American culture and its most benign export.

Matthew Furmanski’s stainless steel sculptures titled “Quonset Studio” and “J&K Studio” do not mystify as much. Here one thinks of game facilities ranging from equipment shacks on primitive backwater dirt lots to the luxurious big city clubhouses and VIP suites and of baseball as the great equalizer.

Ian M. Kennelly, on the other hand, takes a direct approach: The game is all about beer and balls and thus his gouache on paper paintings of both signify the game’s mass appeal.  By contrast, Juan Thorp’s carefully delineated acrylic on paper drawings of mechanized throwers and batters suggest the joy and tedium of constant, solitary practice on one hand, and the pictorial arrangements on baseball cards on the other.

While putting together a show dedicated to “America’s favorite pastime,” De Angelo could not have known how well it would fit into these maddening times, where all we know has been turned upside down and inside out, and everything seems both elusive and up for grabs. Looking at Michael Woodcock’s painting of a solitary ball traversing the blue sky like a satellite, “July sky, (small),” even those who are not into the sport might find something comfortingly familiar to hang onto--home and childhood, with all its promises.

Matthew Furmanski, "J&K Studio,"
2008, stainless steel, 60 x 20 x 20".

Ian M. Kennelly, , "Full Count,"
2008, gouache on Crane
90# cover paper, 20 x 26"