|CONTINUING AND RECOMMENDED, OCTOBER 2013|
Mark Hagen, "The Alhambra," 2013, aluminum and stainless steel space frame, 153 x 182 x 242".
Mark Hagen works equally in painting and sculpture, and both are rooted in his own version of a post-minimalist alchemy. He frequently employs obsidian, a mainly black volcanic glass, into his floor and wall works, but here his works in aluminum and stainless steel frame constructions take center stage. The large gallery is dominated by "The Alhambra," in which an Erector Set-like sequence of conjoining sections rise from a modest foundation into an expansive 'roof' that encroaches the ceiling. The effect is a vaguely genuflecting experience that, more literally than his other work, alludes to the mathematical (belief) system that underlies his oeuvre. A trio of smaller aluminum-and-stainless-steel towers, dubbed "Ramada" (1, 2, and 3), have their joints periodically capped with the pulp of paper taken from the Y2K Survival Handbook and Truckin' magazines from the early '90s. They strike a surprising dose of humor in what has otherwise been a humorless gestalt (though the show's title, "Paleo Diet," is awfully clever). Hagen's paintings have evolved from a hard-edged geometry to a series of "Gradient" paintings, in which some of his familiar geometric forms are visible close up, but from a distance read as black and white gradient transitions. It's a strategy that fuses approaches as disparate as those of Julian Hoeber and Cory Arcangel. Make no mistake, though: this will be one of the stand-out shows of the season (International Art Objects, Culver City).
Heather Gwen Martin, "Fencer," 2013, oil on linen, 82 x 72".
What could you learn about a work of art by trying to envision it from its title alone? Try “Rising Sun and Stab Wounds.” Hold onto the first image that pops into your head while I feed you more information. “Rising Sun . . .” is one among the series of recent paintings by Heather Gwen Martin entitled “Pattern Math.” All ten are oil on linen, 82” by 72,” unframed, hung centered at eye level. Each painting in this exhibition could be described as abstract, enlivened with a touch of the figurative. Chances are, unless you are already familiar with Martin’s work, nothing you can imagine from her titles will be as moving, mysterious, colorful or compelling as the actual paintings. Her larger areas of color, forming a background of lively fragments in stunning rainbow vibrations of high contrast and/or close harmony hues, sometimes reference actual objects the artist has seen or dreamed up. But by the time Martin has organized and invigorated these shapes with the carefully thought out linear elements she makes look effortless, a dissident chorus swells up, full of life, with plenty of mystery to compel the viewer to bring his or her own powers of imagination into play. With or without the aid of the artist’s wickedly witty titles, translating her work into words is troublesome. But the disparate experiences viewers have confronting Martin’s paintings will not easily be forgotten (Luis De Jesus Gallery, Culver City).
Jedediah Caesar, "Rozoj" (detail), 2013, mixed media.
If you're anticipating a potpourri of cultural relics encased in clear resin, arguably Jedediah Caesar's signature, you're in for a surprise. Indeed, he has since moved on from that trope, having earlier this year exhibited a group of earth-toned triangular slabs on the floor sporting complex chemical titles. "Rozoj" is inspired by a short-lived micronation in the Adriatic (The Republic of Rose Island's Esperanto name was Insulo de la Rozoj) constructed on a man-made platform, which the Italian navy soon blew up. Caesar has concocted a near-psychedelic arrangement of artificial fossil-like remnants, arranged in a grid of boxes on the floor. Viewers may traverse them for close and multiple inspections. Whereas in earlier work Caesar fossilized various and sundry late 20th-century ephemera (View-Master reels come to mind), here he has fabricated futuristic fossils as though from scratch, imagining them as "Rozoj's" future currency, long after the paper bills were pulled from circulation. The contents of the distinct boxes range from intensely saturated arrangements to one that's mainly black, each with dusty, chalk-like consistencies made from resins, food spices, and who knows what other mystery ingredients. The otherworldly visuals of these faux fossils gamely meet the ambitions of a futuristic, perhaps post-apocalyptic society, and the aesthetics are equally magnetic (LAXART, Culver City).
Steve Roden, "bacchus on a billygoat," 2013, oil on canvas, 60 x 48". Photo: Robert Wedemeyer
Marking ten years that Steve Roden has shown here, this new work, especially the paintings, keeps getting better. He displays a greater mastery of his own internal logic, a system guided by a set of rules which are borne out of musical patterns. This methodology involves both the occasional breaking of those rules, but also requires the confidence to make sound (no pun intended) intuitive decisions while working his way through numerous pattern algorithms. The larger paintings have a more noticeable spatial depth, and reveal a greater array of subtleties over time. "Black extendable (fragments and letters)" is a particularly potent example. His prolific productivity certainly hasn't hurt, gauged by the fact that he has a concurrent show (also titled "ragpicker") at CRG Gallery in New York. Added to his repertoire this go-round is a piece featuring framed drawings paired with wall-mounted turntables playing LPs with hand-drawn labels; a series of excellent tall, narrow drawings made with printer's ink and colored pencil titled "when the body becomes a city and the city becomes a body;" and two rather incongruous, cryptic sculptures made of plaster, cloth and cardboard. Knowing that Roden is an experienced sound artist/experimental musician adds a key edifying layer to one's perception of the work, but its high competence stands up regardless (Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City).
Mitch Dubrowner, "Arm of God," 2009, photograph.
Hiroshi Watanabe, from "Sarumawashi (Monkey Dancing)," photograph.
The juxtaposition of Mitch Dobrowner’s black and white images of tornados, lightning and other storm filled landscapes with Hiroshi Watanabe’s Suo Sarumawashi (“Monkey Dancing”) images, which feature trained macaque monkeys dressed for performance, presents two opposing forms of vulnerability. Dobrowner’s images convey that man is powerless when confronted with nature. His chilling yet beautiful photographs exhibit the forces of nature at their worst. Sarumawashi is ranked as one of the oldest and most traditional of Japan’s performing arts. It features acrobatic stunts and comedic skits performed by trained monkeys. Watanabe’s portraits of these animals are deliberately taken out of context. The animals are not performing for an audience but rather for the camera. The animals portray human emotions and characteristics, precisely what makes them so adorable. Yet once the “how cute” factor disappears what one is left with is images of animals dressed in human clothes. These animals are helpless when subjected to the force of human will (Kopeikin Gallery, Culver City).
Linder, "Daughters of the promised Land ii," 2012, 11 3/8 x 7 7/8".
If you haven't heard of the artist known as Linder, as I hadn't, then you may find that, despite the barrage of pornographic imagery on view, the most potent aura present is above all the context - that of a heavyweight gallery uncovering a fresh undiscovered find from the past. That premise, however, is misinformed; in fact, Linder (full name Linder Sterling, born Linder Mulvey in 1954) has exhibited widely throughout Europe, and had a solo exhibition at MoMA's P.S.1 in 2007. This is her West Coast debut, however, so the work will be new to most, though only by name. You may very well have seen Linder's work on the cover of the Buzzcocks' 1977 album "Orgasm Addict," featuring a collaged porn woman with a clothes iron for a head and mouths in place of her nipples. The original photo-collage series of women with various domestic appliances in place of heads is also included in the show, and they too feel like familiar imagery. Linder came out of the punk scene in Manchester, and formed her own band in 1978. Her collaged porn and food imagery have a pungent intensity, not unlike what John Heartfield brought to war iconography, though it's often hard to discern whether Linder's work should be seen as having been ahead of its time, or simply still retaining its poignancy. An indication may arise in light of the more recent work, particularly the strongest: three c-prints from 2011 featuring a woman (possibly Linder) and, (presumably) a man, during and/or post-performance, who are completely covered in densely saturated paint and food. They've been dubbed "splosh" photos. With their in-your-face irreverence, they're completely worth the price of admission (Blue & Poe Gallery, Culver City).
Tom Fruin, "Jacob Reese," 2013, drug baggies, cigarette pack, money and thread, 20 x 24".
Tom Fruin uses discarded remains from his immediate neighborhood in Brooklyn as the building blocks for his work. The reimagined pieces of trash are more of a narrative of local history than a celebration of culture. Items like discarded drug baggies do not make for tourist brochures. Instead the artist embraces this harsh reality and repurposes its remains as a quilt. The baggies are a bit shocking because they are still easily identifiable despite the homely final product. The exhibition, entitled “Locals Only,” is a play on his process and the content of many of his works, which address both his upbringing in California and current home in New York. From trash to artifacts, these bits of history are aesthetically redeemed through their relationship with one another, but leave you a little weary about their origins (Paul Loya Gallery, Culver City).
G. James Daichendt
Dawn Kasper, "The Absurd," 2013, installation view.
Dawn Kasper's contribution to the 2012 Whitney Biennial was to move the contents of her home/studio into the space. The museum became her studio, where she developed new work for the exhibition as the Biennial progressed. Part of the work was, of course, engaging with the audience. Kasper's practice falls under the rubric of Relational Aesthetics, a term coined by the French theorist Nicolas Bourriaud. This is defined as a practice centered on human relations and their social context. Kasper's installation "The Absurd," a durational performance that takes place nightly when the gallery is closed, is based on Albert Camus's "Myth of Sisyphus." What gallery viewers see during daylight hours is what was developed the night before. The gallery serves both as a stage set and the site for documentation of the process (Honor Fraser, Culver City).
Feodor Voronow, painting from "Relics," 2013.
Feodor Voronov makes dense, pattern-heavy paintings that manage to be both colorful and muted, baroque but a little bit austere. This comes partly from his use of materials - working on raw canvas, he uses a mix of faint black pen lines, intermittent arcs of multi-colored stripes, and swaths of grey smudges in concert with a surprisingly dizzying effect. Having previously shown in the smaller Project Space here, Voronov's work greatly benefits from the more expansive volume of the main gallery, allowing for the work to run wild, particularly the larger paintings, which transcend the decorative into the realm of visual linguistics. Indeed, Voronov's textless work is inspired by language (the show's title, "Relics," refers to relics of his linguistic thought process), and in translating from the textual to visual, the complexity of the pattern-making has a gravitas that enhances its enigmatic disposition (Mark Moore Gallery, Culver City).
Mark Dean Veca, "Flag II," 2012, india ink, acrylic on canvas, 83 1/4 x 44".
Mark Dean Veca’s lines squirm across the familiar image of the American icon in "Flag 2." It’s as though he squished a small intestine within the iconic symbol and allowed it to ooze and melt like cheese falling off the side of a toasted sandwich. While the exhibit is not large, this small survey of his work jumps off the walls. The exhibition was organized to celebrate a recent monograph published by Zero + Publishing. "Just Win" is one of the most impressive pieces. It’s a menagerie of iconic symbols that are tied together through an organic green cloud. In between this floating glob, we see cartoons, detached eyes, and a range of notable pop culture symbols. From the logo of the Oakland Raiders, whose late owner’s (Al Davis) motto for the team was “Just win baby,” to a radiant Rabbit sculpture in the center by Jeff Koons, who is best known for auction records. Mixing bright colors, excitable forms, and a knack for cultural touchstones, the result is a pop surrealism explosion that doesn’t disappoint (Western Project, Culver City).
Alison Saar, "Milk Teeth," 2013, paper, glue, cast resin, tar and found child's chair.
Anguished by post-Katrina conditions she witnessed earlier this year while in New Orleans, Alison Saar was inspired to produce work that incorporates the themes of impasse and renewal implied in her exhibition’s title, "Slough." While underscoring her acclaimed ability to convey both strength and vulnerability in her portrayals of women, Saar addresses issues of racism that continue to threaten to diminish the dignity of people of color. In "Per-a-Port" she leaves a found suitcase open, inviting us to view the crumpled, paper-thin figure inside, suggestive of a molting snake. Saar pads the rear of a drawing of a nude female with patches scavenged from a sugar sack in "Backwater Blues." Standing ankle deep in water, thinly veiled behind a screen door that can easily be opened by those eager for a closer look, the figure conveys the vulnerability and exposure of victims of Katrina and black women in general. In contrast, the looming size and death defying athleticism of the muscular nude sculpture titled "Pearly" represents Mademoiselle LaLa, a black Victorian era acrobat famed for hanging by her teeth. As an expression of sheer fortitude the image brings to mind the valor of another determined woman recently in the news, Diana Nyad. Saar’s ability to depict a range of emotional states is obvious here, as well as in the contrast between the stunning cast bronze figures, "Spring and Summer" (visible from the gallery’s Skyroom), and the kneeling woman behind the chewed chair in "Milk Teeth." Of special interest is Saar’s handling of glass, wood and ceramic figures holding brambles, thorns or cotton. Referencing the "Cotton Eater" in Greek mythology, these works allude to practices designed to appease the poor with non-nutritious, apathy promoting gifts; the work reinforces Saar’s mastery of a broad repertory of materials particularly suited to her visceral depictions of humanity.
At about the time when there was so much interest in their "Mindful Awareness" meditation sessions that the Hammer Museum felt compelled to podcast them weekly, Tom Wudl went into training to prepare himself to sustain the consistency and concentration necessary to produce a series of richly detailed paintings exhibited under the title "Reflections of the Flowerbank World." Inspired by his interpretation of the admonishment to meditate encrypted in the Avatamsaka Buddhist sutra, the paintings Wudl produced are much more than an illustration of an age-old text. Long held manifestations of interconnections between beauty and glory are embedded in his work. The largest painting in the show, "Unattached, Unbound, Liberated Kindness," glows with gem-like colors highlighted in 22-karat gold against a rich dark background. Interdependency of all phenomena within a cosmos of infinite realms is suggested in the repetitive patterns and frame-within-a-frame presentation favored by Wudl. Hidden treasures lie waiting to be discovered by viewers patient enough to take their time to examine Wudl’s rich imagery mindfully (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).
Cyrus Cylinder, from Babylon, southern Irag, ca. 539-530 BC. Courtesy of the British Museum.
"The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning" is a small gem of show - just a couple dozen objects - based around one of the most famous artifacts of the ancient world, the Cyrus Cylinder, on loan here from the British Museum. The accomplishments of Cyrus II, ruler of Persia 559–530 B.C., are told on this broken clay cylinder 9” inches long and 4” wide, through the Babylonian cuneiform incised onto its surface. It tells of how Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and set up reforms, restored sanctuaries, and permitted exiled peoples to return to their homeland – this included Jews who were permitted to return to Jerusalem, which is referred to in the Book of Isaiah in The Old Testament.
In 1879 the cylinder was found buried in the foundation of the walls of Babylon, and quickly recognized for the important document it is. So important, in fact, that in 1971 Iran adopted it as the official symbol for the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Achaemenid Empire in Iran. The image graced many coins, stamps, and medals. The exhibition, which has made previous stops at the Met and at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, also includes a choice selection of other objects that help tell the story of the Achaemenid Empire, such as coins, seals, gold jewelry, architectural fragments, and vessels. These reflect the primary concerns of the times – warfare and ritual. On one cylinder seal, a warrior in a driven chariot battles a lion. On a coin, another warrior kneels on one knee as he steadies his bow to shoot an arrow. One addition to the show unique to the Los Angeles venue is a new acquisition by the Getty - the earliest photographs of the ruins of the Achaemenid palaces and audience halls at Persepolis, from Luigi Pesce’s "Album fotografico della Persia" (1860) (The Getty Villa, West Side).
Cecily Brown, "Be Nice to the Big Blue Sea," 2012, oil on linen, 109 x 171".
Cecily Brown’s exhibition of recent paintings pays homage to the historical tradition of nude ensemble painting. Every inch of these mostly large scale works are packed with fragmented figures, faces and body parts. These often-anonymous anatomical forms are vigorously painted and are often dominated by orange and fleshy color combinations. Brown’s mark-making and gestural execution of the often hide-and-seek images are immediately reminiscent of DeKooning’s classic abstract expressionism. There is beauty and liveliness in Brown’s brushstrokes and a confident energy in the way she lays down color. She appears to move easily from one monumental painting to the next, seemingly never skipping a beat. Yet the content belies her painterly technique. The visual effort required to decipher the subject matter and detail is exhausting and uncomfortable. Though the canvases are formally strong, we have to wonder what the artist is trying to communicate. Is she commenting on the sometimes confusing and overwhelming multi-dimensional complexities and realities of 21st century life? Brown wants us to walk away with questions – so we will come back for more. Her four relatively small works in the rear gallery give us a glimpse of a more personal and intimate connection with the viewer that come as something of a relief (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).
John Bauer, "Blue Velvet," 2013, oil and enamel on linen, 90 x 102".
While John Bauer’s canvasses, as large as 90 x 102 inches, contain hints of abstract expressionism, his creative process marries digital manipulation with traditional stenciling, spraying, rolling, brushing and printing, much of the hand work influenced by German post-war painting. Many of the pieces in this “Black and Blue” series begin as a drawing on canvas. He then photographs the work, manipulates it in several layers in the computer, and finally, returning to the work-in progress on linen, paints it with oil and enamel. While this laborious process is not readily apparent to the viewer, the results are two-dimensional pieces that look three-dimensional, and sometimes even four-dimensional, the latter evoking outer space or what Bauer calls a "vampiric" effect. This is achieved in part by the enamel paint’s reflection of ambient light. The artist works in a palette of bright blue, black, silver, white and, in one canvas, magenta. Forms are abstract, gestural and grid-like. These hybrid paintings dialogue with each other, with a few recalling the luminescent atmosphere of the artist/surfer's beloved Pacific Ocean. This is particularly evident in three blue-themed works, “Blue Velvet,” “Angel of Light” and “Afterimage of Angel of Light.” By combining a variety of processes and media, and alluding to historical and cultural influences, Bauer creates original and provocative works (Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Hollywood).
Alex Slade, "Calenergy Geothermal Generating Plants / Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, Calipatria, CA," 2013, chromogenic print, 48 x 60".
Alex Slade is an exceptional photographer. His color images are precisely framed and exquisitely lit. His subject is both the natural and urban landscape, which serves as his vehicle to explore man's impact on the environment. In "What City Pattern (Revision 2)" he juxtaposes two bodies of work. Images of the California landscape, in which industrial sustainability projects are accompanied by man-made habitat areas, are seen in relation to images of abandoned modernist architecture. Slade's point of departure is a 1956 issue of Architectural Forum, whose focus was the patterns of cities twenty years in the future, 1976. Speculation about that near term future has, of course, receded into the past to leave a residue of what has and has not become reality in the present. Through photographic documentation Slade presents the impact urbanism, the economy, and eco-industrialization has had on the landscape (Edward Cella Art + Architecture, Miracle Mile).
Eric Yahnker, "Ebony and Benghazi," 2013.
This has been a coming-out year for Eric Yahnker locally (following previous shows here in 2008 and 2011), with his inclusion in L.A. Louver's "Rogue Wave" over the summer and now this solo show. The political cartoonist/satirist turned fine artist continues to mine media-saturated figures and images for his own brand of heady-cum-cheeky comedy. Though the show is dubbed "Ebony & Benghazi," the political references are more oblique than in the past. The send-ups here favor heroism and celebrity as opposed to the more direct election-year commentary. Bill and Hillary Clinton (he in a colored drawing called "Billrise," she paired with a Stevie Wonder CD to make up the show's titular piece) are the sole overtly political characters. Yahnker loves tweaking pop-cultural iconography, taking liberties in grand fashion. "Jugs of Steel (A Cold Day in Hell)" is a well-rendered Christopher Reeve Superman, with breasts. "Kings of the World" is a nearly nine-foot-wide colored pencil drawing that assumes the infamous pose of Leonardo DiCaprio at the bow of the Titanic. Instead of Kate Winslet, DiCaprio has his arms around Charlton Heston's Moses. Several sculptural interludes are interspersed through the installation as well, adding layers of faux nostalgia and melancholy to the festivities. If the work is at times too easily digestible, it still provides flavors that are satisfyingly spicy (Ambach & Rice, Miracle Mile).
Steven Hull, "Engine Room," 2013, acrylic on wood, electric fan and lights, motion detector, bicycle wheel, paper, wire, string, bamboo, buttons, 10' x 24' x 5'8".
Steven Hull has fun making art. His works are playful installations with miniature steam engines and marionettes. Fans spin and colorful panels are stacked against the wall. The abstract and representational, real and imagined mingle within room-sized installations. He uses the walls as framing devices and allows his "paintings" to extend into the space so that they become sculptures and paintings simultaneously. While the narrative thread through the work may be obtuse, it is clear that Hull's placement is not arbitrary; he is interested in how the parts add up to create the whole. In this installation he has collaborated with the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, bringing puppets into the mix in order to add another layer of interactivity to the work (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).
Laura Karetzky, "After Reading," 2012, oil on linen, 50 x 65".
The highly detailed narrative paintings of Laura Karetzky depict moments isolated from everyday life. Karetzky's compositions have a snapshot aesthetic in which her framing crops people off in the foreground in order to isolate the action that unfolds within the larger pictorial space. Many of the paintings depict intimate or familiar moments, as in "The 3Ls," which depicts a woman both inside and outside the Schlesinger gallery. The figure who dominates the foreground is portrayed in the blue tones of the light reflected off the door. A warmer palette is used to depict the women who gather inside the space. Karetzky's "Short Stories" are suggestive vignettes of what may have happened before and what might happen after the moment represented by each image (Lora Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).
Trygve Faste, "Protoform Small Chartreuse," 2013, acrylic on canvas, 8 x 17 x 2"
A back room installation by Trygve Faste, a painter/sculptor from, Eugene Oregon, explores where abstraction collides with technology and architecture. His shaped canvases are airbrushed montages of overlaying shapes that give the illusion of depth. The folds within the painting echo the geometry of the structure. Faste's complex forms are created on the computer using CAD, from which a laser cut wood frame is created. He then air-bushes the surfaces to accentuate the three-dimensional possibilities within the structure. The brightly colored works play with the relationship between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional illusions (Ruch Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).
Devin Troy Strother, "'Ya'll bitches crushing my back tho,' said Quiesha to Moesha and Ja'meesha, 'seriously yor killing my back, bitch'," 2013, acrylic and auto-body paint on aluminum, 70 1/4 x 77 1/2 x 14".
In Devin Troy Strother's debut exhibition here in 2010 the gallery was filled with 25 works on paper that explored the impact of race in contemporary society with humor and criticality. Using cutout paper figures with simple features that extended beyond the frame, Strother not only created a signature style, but one that was adaptable to other media. Strother's new work is abrasive and brash. He exposes racial stereotypes and slang by poking fun at clichéd representations. His mostly nude, mostly female figures frolic with each other, oblivious to that implication. Animals as well as sports references are now added to the mix. Works on black construction paper have grown into larger than life-size laser cut aluminum sculptures depicting his afro-sporting large-breasted women in evocative poses. The sculptures, a less than flattering depiction of African American women by an African American man, are titillating and suggestive while simultaneously being images of the exotic other (Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica).
"Sense and Sensibility I" is the first of two consecutive exhibitions. Art professionals who are known primarily for art writing, curating, and teaching, frequently create art in their spare time. And because of their reviews and criticism, it certainly could devolve into an exhibition of dilettantes, not serious art, or a collection of work no one dare fault. But despite a bit of unevenness of content and skill, the show has many redeeming qualities; specifically an important message. Most present began as artists, are still sensitive to art-making, but out of inclination or necessity switched to devote more time to their present vocations. Carl Berg looks at the growing distance technology fosters between art and viewer. Using images of patrons at the Rijksmuseum, looking at the most incredible historical art, we see people peering into their iPhones, iPads, cameras, and gadgetry, frantically taking as many photos as possible, while ignoring the art in front of them. Peter Frank photographs and writes poetry. "Epic Radness" is in sepia tones as we look downward to see shadows from above, intermixed with lively shapes painted on a wooden floor. The poem, placed near the photo, is an added conundrum. Frank gives no clues in the photo or poem except to engage us visually and literally. The pleasure is deciphering what is going on above the floor and finding the connection between the poem and photo - a riddle Frank establishes, having no particular answer. Kimberly Brooks turns her "Jane Austen" title into images of ladies in elegant gowns. She contrasts gentility with exaggerated and cumbersome costuming. Habib Zamani’s abstract still lifes are whimsical and masterful. David Michael Lee is known for his handsome abstract geometric shapes, configurations that never cease to stimulate. Lastly, Margaret Lazzari’s Joan Mitchell-esque use of paint is stunning. The show has many fine works, which leaves asking: What will the second exhibition be like (Mount San Antonio College Art Gallery, San Gabriel Valley)?
John Divola, "Zuma #25," 1978, pigment print on rag paper, 21 x 26".
Images of the crumbling shell of a Malibu home from the 1970s might seem just as relevant to the universal human record as Pompeii, AD 79 if we admit that, empirically at least, all human purpose and values are equal. John Divola must have felt some of this when he photographed an abandoned house in Zuma Beach during the early mornings and late evenings back in 1977-1978, for there’s something especially existential about not only witnessing the decay of a human artifact, but contributing to it. For those two years, Divola photographed this shanty-in-progress and lent to it his own devised destruction in the form of graffiti and debris, often tossing and capturing pieces mid-flight within his lens. Other visitors also added design elements, including firefighters who practiced dousing interior blazes and random beachcombers with penchants for shattering windows and beer bottles. Participating in the demise of a dwelling that had a zero prognosis of survival was key to Divola, and he viewed himself as a component of that disintegration process as opposed to remaining an impartial, photographic observer.
The resulting series, some of which can be seen in "As Far as I Could Get," is an engrossing representation of Divola’s desire to intervene into documentary landscape and, as he puts it, “force a negotiation between intention and the actual nature of the world.” For the viewer standing in front of the often large-scale imagery, a portal has been opened up, momentarily allowing us to step into the transitioning past to spy the details of wilting doorways, mangled curtains and corroded chair springs. All of these relics are housed within perishing walls adorned by Divola’s neon red spray painted blocks or silver squiggled rain drops, with the entire lot piled up against backgrounds of blushing sunrises and dusky sunsets that float serenely across pane-less, charred window frames. Divola sees nature’s oceanic elements as regenerative instead of punishing, the exact opposite of how most of us view the destruction of our creations – and he was on to something. Decay is the natural order of things and brings about new life, and while it’s an abhorrent concept to us when coupled with art, flesh, or achievement, it is, in fact, what must occur. Ruination eventually touches everything. Divola's series makes the point that whether one joins that process during inception or epilogue, it’s the participation that counts (Pomona College Art Museum, Claremont).
Yu Ji, "Tea," oil on canvas, 28 x 22".
"Moments Unchained" consists of Yu Ji’s haunting figurative oils and charcoals. Many are of faces, others of figures in repose, most apparently in New York City, that look back to the early 20th century Ashcan School. Employing expressive, gestural brush and pencil work, often using a dark palette with vivid details in the faces, the artist draws on a variety of influences. His early years growing up during Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76), laboring in a remote mountain village, undoubtedly contribute to a dark vision of life. Also shining through is his classically trained technique learned in private study during that Chinese revolution, then later at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and at art schools and workshops in the U.S. and France. His penchant for direct observation of contemporary urban life is apparent, with an intent “to build a visual dialogue on shared experiences,” according to the artist.
Four small oils, titled “Drifters,” depict the lined and haggard faces of four ragged urban characters. As the type of people many of us tend to turn away from, these four gems beckon us to stop and stare. “Sisters,” by contrast, depict the profiles of two young women, one white, the other African American, who are more spiritually than biologically connected. “From Eldridge” is a large charcoal of a Chinatown subway station, showing signage in Chinese and in English. Here, the variety of urban dwellers is represented by the eager young Asian emerging from the station alongside exhausted people of various races. Other works portray people at bus stops, in subway cars and stations, as wells as in coffee shops. Of special note is that in every work the characters, while standing or seated near each other, are always in their own worlds and seemingly disengaged. Yu Ji explains, "The work becomes a visual metaphor, parallel to my experience surviving in today’s cultural environment under the impact of global crosscurrents.” This series enables the viewer to contemplate contemporary urban life as a world of diverse humanity shot through with pathos and longing (Soka University, Orange County).
Jane Maxwell, "Mink Shawl," 48 x 48".
By using collage to build idolized, nearly life-size female figures, Jane Maxwell alludes to the complexity of contemporary women through the creative process and in her finished works. The resulting eye-candy-ish pieces depict perfect, long-legged female bodies, several posing seductively or in conversation with others, many evoking the flawless bodies of advertising and on the runways. Her cutout female figures are juxtaposed against a variety of papers and materials collected at antique fairs and flea markets, including pages from old magazines, and Hollywood posters of forgotten B movie starlets. The artist explains, “I like the way these materials have their own history and unique patina. I think that any piece of art becomes more interesting and authentic when there is a level of complexity and layering of unusual materials.” To build these collages, she melts beeswax, then lays several layers of glued-together papers onto the beeswax. After heat seeps through the layers, revealing imagery and texture, she cuts into the layers to reveal the female forms. Finally, she coats the pieces with high gloss resin, providing the glitzy advertising look. “On the Edge” presents a seated woman in a black tank dress, emblazoned with white numbers and surrounded by a longing female face from a movie poster, a thirties-looking fashion show and papers from comics, magazines and fruit boxes. In “Mink Shawl,” a starlet posed in a shawl is mimicked by an identically shaped figure, adorned with a shawl of fruit box paper. Maxwell’s concurrence of the seemingly elegant with the deliberately banal results in striking, multi-layered works that conform to the modus operandi of the modern collage tradition (JoAnne Artman Gallery, Orange County).
Gregory Conniff, "Madison, WI," 1979, vintage gelatin silver print, 16 x 20".
Gregory Conniff wants us to notice the ordinary details of our visual world, especially houses, buildings and the surrounding landscape. His 37 vintage gelatin silver prints, each measuring 16” x 20” and in black and white, date from the years 1979-1982. Taken in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington D.C., these images and others were featured in Conniff’s first book “Common Ground,” which the scholar John A. Kouwenhoven called “a major event in the history of photography.” Conniff’s everyday landscapes depict domestic architecture – houses, and the fences, gardens and land adjoining these homes. These seemingly straightforward photographs reveal a beautiful geometry within our ordinary surroundings. The images call attention to the repetition of detailed shapes, shadows, and the juxtaposition of organic and built forms. Conniff wants us to see what is common but often unnoticed – the space around homes and vegetation, the shadows that trees cast on buildings and porches, the repetition of the slats on roofs and its relationship to the slats on buildings, steps and picket fences. His images are of a quiet and mostly organized world filled with the relationships that individualize our personal landscapes (Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla).
Richard Allen Morris, "The Muse," 2013, ink on paper, 11 x 8 1/2".
Over 240 small jewels are hung salon style here. Richard Allen Morris, often referred to as a "painter’s painter," has lived and worked in San Diego since 1956. At age 80, Morris’s work continues to gain momentum, as this latest gathering, titled “Quick Draw,” attests. The majority of these paintings are smaller than 8 1/2 x 11 inches. The artist selected the frames, each unique, distinctive and having it’s own character, to meld with each artwork. Consistent with his abstract expressionistic style, many of these gestural works are fresh and spontaneous. Works made from collage, ink, graphite, and paint are masterfully executed and representative of the range of Morris’ oeuvre. Often bold and playful, each is a snippet - observations and impressions Morris has of the world around him. Also present is his experimental spirit and continuing curiosity about drawing and painting. Though this exhibition doesn’t include the scale of many of Morris’ bodies of work, it provides thoughtful insight into the creative depth of this dedicated and accomplished artist (R.B. Stevenson Gallery, La Jolla).