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June, 2009

Jane Castillo, “Excentricidad Eliplica (Ecliptic Eccentricity),” 2000, synthetic hair balls, 36 x 36 x 36”.

Having graduated from the Claremont Graduate University ten years ago, Jane Castillo has reached the success or failure point often mentioned by the school’s founder and mentor, Roland Reiss. Castillo is now an official success story with this month’s mini-retrospective and an installation at the “C.O.L.A. 2009” exhibition at Barnsdall Park. Meanwhile, Tarryn Teresa Gallery showcases her career-making “hairball” theme. For Castillo, who is from Columbia, hair is a marker of identity and gender; hair places you in the cultural hierarchy based upon the preferred color and straightness: you have either high hair or low hair. To comment upon the large role hair plays in the life of its owner, Castillo makes huge “hairballs” of densely curled hair, formed painstakingly by hand, and then hung on ropes from the ceiling.  The “hair” is as artificial as the semiotic meaning of hair types, and, depending on its color, one ball can knock the others about. “Ecliptic Eccentricity” is a series of five large hairballs, four black and one blond, a re-designed pendulum. The blond hairball is on the end--the position of power. It can knock the black ones around. The hairballs reappear in tiny drawings that can go unnoticed by visitors.  They are stopped at the door.  The room is filled with a cascade of thin strands of white nylon rope. The shimmering fibers drape like a protective veil, barring access to a twelve-foot high cone of tiny black hairballs, each striving to rise to the top. There is nothing natural in Castillo’s work. Hair is a statement of artifice, truly an object of culture (Tarryn Teresa Gallery, Downtown; Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Hollywood).
Jeanne Willette

The perceptual shifts induced by Cal Crawford’s installation “POSSIBILITIESOFFISTS” force you to keep moving around the gallery. Proclaiming itself a “perverted memorial” to linear perspective, Crawford throws a ramped up arsenal of disjunctive lines, strobe lights, color and music at the viewer from the moment you enter the space. Negotiating under low hung Daniel Buren striped banners you move to the eye stabbing flutter of too bright video monitors that show short vertical stripped panels that appear to spin in empty space. There is a sense of disjunction and lost rhythm to all the black and white visual repetition. Vivid colors being flashed on a back wall compete with their own timing and the blare of loud music. Yet when you stand looking back at the black and white stripes that hang at different distances and heights near the front door, the after-image radiance from all the vertical lines turns out to be quite beautiful (Sister, Chinatown).
Suvan Geer

Cal Crawford, “POSSIBILITIESOFFISTS,” 2009, installation view.

Jean Marie Perier, “Bob Dylan on Tour (On stage, profile),
England,” 1966, C-print, 31 3/4 x 45 7/16”.
The photographic reportage of Jean-Marie Périer documents movie stars and rock stars, providing us with the ultimate “First Person Access.” Périer’s color portraits of the Beatles filed behind a red door of a London flat, a lonely Keith Richards strumming an acoustic guitar in an empty theatre with gaudy yellow cushions, and Bob Dylan meditating over his guitar while another photographer catches a shot of him are just some of the moments captured by Périer’s lens. The photographs create pause and nostalgia, making us fall in love with these rock and roll legends all over again. Also included are portraits of still very young actresses Brigitte Bardot and Sylvie Vartan laying on their stomachs, their blond hair the spray-painted grass beneath them highlights coifs and profiles.

“First Person Access” is a celebration of celebrity and also a meditation on the impression that the subjects imbedded in our social consciousness beyond the world of music and cinema (Fahey/Klein Gallery, West Hollywood).
A. Moret

Rather than photograph plant life thriving and decaying in situ, Jane O’Neil brings a flatbed scanner to her backyard and scans birds of paradise, persimmons, and gnarled root balls. In her manipulation, handling, and recording of delicate objects O’Neil transforms natural elements into computer-generated objects. Therefore the prints in “Environmental Memory: Part 1--Home Grown” depict subjects that no longer exist. Instead O’Neil’s digital c-prints become the memory of her former home grown environment. Whether it’s “Apple Cactus,” depicting a rotted and blackened apple staged next to a cactus (a symbol of longevity and endurance), or “Prisimmion #1,” in which O’Neil has granted us access inside the dying petals, “Environmental Memory” is a show about transition. “Root Ball” is an unearthed web of roots that appear to continue growing with ferocity even though they have been removed from the soil. The root is drenched in contrast--as it is still stained by the dirt and overexposed by the glare of the scanner. By uprooting the root ball, O’Neil demonstrates that “we’re all in transition,” and confirms that we are never living in a single environment but moving from one to the next (DNJ Gallery, West Hollywood).

Jane O’Neal, “Root Ball,” 2008,
archival inkjet print, 44 x 30”.

Jo Ann Callis, from the series “Three Tiers,”
1994, cibachrome print, 40 x 30”.  
From Callis' exhibition at Craig Krull Gallery.
Like a talented set designer, Jo Ann Callis organizes changes in the décor of her studio to support the staging of actors in her "fabricated photographs." With carefully selected coats of paint and the adept placement of lighting and props, Callis transforms models and ordinary household goods into the sensual, combining seductive beauty with biting wit. This modestly sized mid-career retrospective highlights Callis’ joy of the tactile, frequently infused with visual puns. Paired with Paul Outerbridge’s retrospective, Callis’ work spins the older photographer’s attraction to the female body on its head. “Woman Twirling” and “Performance,” (a work in which curtains part to reveal a woman precariously balanced in a handstand) address Callis’ feminist sensitivity and belief that “the outside world may be different from what one feels internally” (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles. Note—Callis also opens an exhibition of new work at Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, which opens after our press time--Ed).
Diane Calder

As de Kooning said, “You make a painting about a crazy world, and they say it was made by a crazy artist.” This prescient statement applies to the work of Mike Kelley. When his collages of stuffed animals were interpreted as evidence of childhood abuse and repressed memory syndrome, Kelley took the ball and ran with it, going so far as to equate his memory of CalArts’ basement level with the imagined tunnels beneath the McMartin Preschool. In this selection of photo editions, Kelley ups the ante with a tour of the monuments of the Detroit neighborhood of his youth, transforming the ramshackle interior of an abandoned house into evidence of something more sinister. In another series, thirty-four cave formations are given names that evoke the real world--turning stalactites into a frozen waterfall. Kelly cautions us of our capacity to contrive things that aren’t really there (Patrick Painter, Inc., Santa Monica).
Michael Buitron

Mike Kelley,Timeless/Authorless” (installation view),
1995, a series of fifteen black and white photographs
mounted on museum board, 31 x 24 inches each.

The group show Rock and Elegance celebrates LA Artists Larry Mullins, Tony Brown, John Andolsek, Carol Charney, Timothy Nero, Julie Speed, Michael Salvatore Tierney, and Irina Alimanestinau. Andolsek’s series of celestial bodies floating on a spray-painted Technicolor sky serve as the keystone for the show. The graphic works of Mullins reflect the graffiti culture in Los Angeles by skillfully combining stencils and paints, creating canvases that look more like they were generated by a computer than by hand. The show examines the visual culture of Los Angeles as well as the psychological nature of Angelinos. Nero’s “Order to Chaos I” explores the chemical composition of a healthy and unquiet mind--half of the page is consumed by orderly strands of DNA, while the opposite side is occupied by rapid strokes of a black pen. “Rock and Elegance” gets part of its name from Tierney, whose high gloss digital images are framed within a custom sheet of acrylic so as to overexpose objects and reduce them to their simplest form. An empty hallway in a library is characterized by the over saturation of light and color. The sleek handling of the digital image reveals a total absence of life. Los Angeles is a visual culture but one that is also based on illusion (George Billis Gallery, Culver City).

Pae White, “Smoke Tapestry 2,”
2007, woven fabric, 118 x 81”.
Pae White’s solo show “Smoke Knows” is an exhibition of “smoke tapestries” and “smoke drawings” both of which employ handmade and digital art practices. As the subject of the show, images of smoke adorn the gallery walls and appear as lucid, meditative and mesmerizing images.  White’s handling of the subject on a tapestry and a drawing suggests that there is a greater versatility in the subject than we might have imagined. The tapestries combine the old practice of weaving with digital photography. White photographs smoke then works with a loom in Belgium where she decides on the color scheme and size of each tapestry. The drawings are actually carvings of paper produced through the removal of a thin later of paint in Color-Acid paper, and then generated with a laser. On many of the drawings fine black lines are present, a vestige of the mechanical process employed. Finally there are two installations of “gutter leaves,” composites of a canvas, aluminum, and paint that have been shaped and molded to naturalistically mirror leaves. Upon entering the gallery space, we confront a pile of leaves strewn across the floor and gathered in a fireplace. The fireplace is a feature of the building that was sectioned off when the gallery moved in. Now it has been uncovered for the show, so is both part of the installation and revealing of what the space once was (1301PE, West Hollywood).

Douglas McCulloh, from the series “Dream Street,” 2009, photograph.

There is nothing dreamlike about “Dream Street.” Nightmarish is more like it. Doug McCulloh, a photographer with a conceptual slant, was a neighbor of a soon-to-be housing development in San Bernardino County when he entered a contest to name a street. His winning entry, “Dream Street,” started him on an odyssey to photograph, first, the rough-hewn residents of the former farming community, then the poorly-paid workers there, and construction in progress. Finally came the nearly-finished almost identical houses--reminiscent of Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes.” His sequential black and white images are shot from odd, askew angles, often with obscured lighting. And each photo has its own poetic description by McCulloh. “New fences had fingered out into the neighborhood, three boards to the foot, four nails to the board,” he writes. The photos, taken before the housing boom went bust, are almost prescient, predicting the financial devastation about to occur (Riverside Art Museum, Riverside).
Liz Goldner

Henry Butler, “Polka Dots,” color photograph.
Blind people visualize imagery, inner representations of outside realities, even though their optic nerves deliver little or no input into their brains from the outside world. “Sight Unseen: Images by Blind Photographers” features the diverse work of about a dozen world-renowned blind photographers. Precisely due to their blindness they avoid clichés so often relied upon by the sighted, making their visualizations materialize in ways that delight and astonish those privileged to see them. Henry Butler, a classically trained musician from New Orleans, relies on audio clues, intuition and his sense of smell to lead him to vivid portrayals of hometown entertainers. Rosita McKenzie rides open-air buses through the streets of Edinburgh, taking

photographs an assistant later translates into black line drawings with raised surfaces that McKenzie can touch with her fingers and decipher like visual Braille, enabling her to “see” her world. Kurt Weston depicts the aging, disease ridden and marginalized, using scanner beds to capture the essence of his subjects’ loss and despair with overtones of hyper-realism and immediacy. The possibilities are astonishing, and the results are inspiring.  This is no novelty exhibition (UCR/California Museum of Photography, Riverside).

There is nothing like the light of the desert to sharpen reality and to heighten spirituality.  Here, in the endless expanses of sky and mountains, an artist can come into contact with elements that are non-existent in the highly artificial art world: the sublime and the beautiful.  In Illuminations four women came to the desert like pilgrims, Georgia O’Keeffe seeking a new identity apart from Alfred Stieglitz, Agnes Martin, seeking peace in the horizontal landscape, Florence Miller Pierce, seeking a new life after her husband’s death.  These three lived in New Mexico, undoubtedly aware of but apparently not in contact with each other. Agnes Pelton, who had drifted in and out of the art world, finished her spiritual journey in the desert of California on a Theosophical quest. The summer exhibition brings together four very disparate artists and connects them through the profound peacefulness of their desert canvases. Collectors are loath to lend their fragile and cherished paintings, and this show provides an opportunity to see these artists of the desert. Martin and O’Keeffe are the most famous of the quartet and they could not be more different. O’Keeffe was always matter-of-fact and meticulous in her observation of her extraordinary surroundings of heaving hills and writhing bones, severely romantic, totally American and completely Western. In contrast to O’Keeffe’s sense of

Agnes Pelton, “The Guide,” 1929,
oil on canvas, 30 1/2 x 20 1/4”.

place, Martin transcends materiality through intense preoccupation with the tools of her trade: plain pencil, moved carefully across stretched canvas, and thin brushes of pale paint create a Zen-like serenity. Her spiritual transcendence is equaled by the real revelation of the exhibition, Florence Miller Pierce.  Pierce’s resin surfaces poured on metal or mirror supports and at once translucent and opaque, shimmering, and deeply stilled.  Unfortunately, these miraculous surfaces do not translate well in the otherwise excellent catalogue and must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.  Agnes Pelton is an acquired taste and is best understood through the lens of Theosophy.   For those who are her followers, this summer presents a rare opportunity to see a substantial offering of a wide range of her work from her figurative illustrations to her spare yet elaborate abstract designs.  At various times in their lives, all the artists were critically connected to well-known movements, but each struggled against labels and ended their careers as determined individualists, identified by their stubborn separation from culture and their identification with nature (Orange County Museum of Art [OCMA], Orange County).

Hugh Brown, “Allegedly:  Meret Oppenheim, Fur Covered Saw
and Saucer,” faux Chinese antelope fur, chainsaw and platter.

Hugh Brown knows packaging. With a day job as the Creative Director of reissue success, Rhino Records, he knows the seductive power of fame and the deep satisfaction of recognizable style.  More to the point, he also knows commercial ‘re-branding’--how to turn someone else’s iconic recognition factor into your own message. “Allegedly” is his witty chainsaw-laden slash at Western visual art and the way images and objects become iconic for artists. It’s a fun romp. Like reports of Freddy Kruger’s death, Brown’s images cannot be trusted. Using chainsaws as ironic emblems of inherent destruction Brown renders them over and over in the style of artists whose work we instantly recognize. They get the Oppenheim treatment as a fur-lined chainsaw on a saucer. To accompany a fragment of color-drizzled cloth we see images of Jackson Pollock working in his studio with a chainsaw sitting on the workbench. David Hockney’s multiple view Polaroids get revisited to show a big saw by a swimming pool.  From Duchamp to Calder, Warhol to Arbus no one is spared. It’s a bloody massacre of recognition and representative style. It’s all very entertaining (CSUF Grand Central Art Center, Orange County).

John Szabo, “Galaxy,” acrylic, resin
and ink on wood panel, 30 x 30”.

John Szabo paints exploding galaxies and other organic shapes on square canvases, using inks, paints, resins and finally polymer to create luminous effects. They reference the experience of stargazing on a dark, clear night or of staring at the heavens just before dawn. The artist explains that he has spent many nights looking at stars, and he often records his ethereal dreams. Looking at this group of fourteen of Szabo’s current works is evocative of the art inspired by the Theosophical movement in the early- to mid-20th century. Yet they simultaneously have a new-age, non-derivative vision of the possibility of greater worlds beyond our own. The intent is that the viewer will gain a magnanimous vision of our larger world and of its possibilities from his paintings. The still youthful Szabo has not yet fulfilled that goal. Yet the intense creativity of these pieces portend that future works may just get there (Marion Meyer, Orange County).

Eric Zener, “Blue Currents,” 2009, mixed media, 41 x 76 1/2”.

While Eric Zener deftly portrays water scenes and the people who inhabit them, how he gets to his finished works is part artistry and part alchemy. The artworks, mostly hybrids of photographs and paintings, depict beach, ocean and pool scenes, and they are lovingly and carefully crafted. Often using his wife (an avid swimmer) as the model, he starts each work with a photograph, many shot underwater, then paints over each, using acrylic or oils and resin to create depth. He finally coats many pieces with varnish to shimmering effect. Some larger works, particularly one with a swimmer suspended underwater, have a feeling of looking into a swimming pool through the side. Zener, himself a swimmer and resident of the Bay Area, is carrying on the time honored tradition of depicting the California light. However the depth in these works lies more in their technique than in generating a new vision (Scape, Orange County).

Samurai armor.

Art of the Samurai includes 81 pieces from the Tokyo National Museum, which also curated the show. The kind of objects--swords, helmets, kimonos, illustrated scrolls, and toiletry sets, primarily from the Edo period (1603-1868)--can be viewed regularly in city museums. But seeing them gathered together in these dramatically-lit galleries, soft Koto music playing, is a special treat. The presentation is so elegantly presented, it is more like a theatrical version of a foreign country than a museum show. The swords and helmets (in shapes like Mount Fuji) gleam, each in its own glass case, designed like a mini-stage set. The kimonos appear like large textural paintings. And the toiletry sets tell of an unusual custom. Tooth dyeing kits were treasured by Japanese married women in that period; these upper-class women dyed their teeth black (Bowers Museum, Orange County).

There is an overwhelming sense of the history of art in both Jane Hammond’s “Fallen” and Sandow Birk’s large woodcuts and pen and ink drawings. Hammond’s 4229 handmade leaves, each with the name of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, immediately bring to mind Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. This direct and obvious reference increases “Fallen’s” sense of poignancy and urgency, placing this piece, this war, this individual soldier in the wider context of history. This same transference takes place in Birk’s work. His black-and-white woodblock print series,

Jane Hammond, “Fallen” (detail), 2004-ongoing, color ink jet
prints on archival paper with gouache, sumi ink and acrylic.

“The Depravities of War” (2007), graphically portrays the savagery of contemporary war, just as his predecessors did--Jacques Callot in his “Miseries of War” prints and, later, Francisco de Goya’s in his “Disasters of War.” The medium (print), as well as the composition are familiar, imparting an additional layer of meaning that we have come to associate with the earlier pieces (San Diego MoCA Downtown, San Diego).
Judith Christensen

Allison Wiese, “Vista,” 2009, installation.
Two worlds collide in Allison Wiese’s alterations of Robert Wood’s landscapes, painted in the mid-twentieth century and well-represented in reproductions on motel and living-room walls. Wood portrays an unspoiled nature--the powerful ocean, the pristine forest, the meandering river. Even the occasional rustic farm building or bridge doesn’t disturb the peace and harmony of these rural scenes. Enter Wiese. With the insertion of one or two blinking LED lights and a battery pack on each Wood print and additional wire leading to a transformer and wall plug, this serenity is ripped apart. She drags these scenes into the twenty-first century, where even these tiny LEDs, on our battery rechargers, surge protectors and appliances, because they are constantly on, threaten the continued existence of the natural world not just as we’d like to believe it is, as in Wood’s portrayals, but as it really is as well (Luis De Jesus Seminal Projects, San Diego).