American Gothic: Talent for the Dark Ages

by Bondo Wyszpolski
Published December 16, 2004

Gallery C, with its upscale prices and airy, uncluttered space, is still being sniffed at suspiciously by some long-time local artists whose lifestyles have more in common with the building’s previous tenant, the Bijou Theatre, which ended its long run by showing art films, and the similarly defunct Either/Or Bookstore.
In Gallery C, some work goes well with the open, minimalist décor, and some seems out of place (even to be in a hostile environment). But since each of the bi-monthly exhibitions tends to feature a number of artists (with frequent guest curators), at least there’s an opportunity to get acquainted with various(ly) talented people—and more often than not something will click.
Tyler Stallings of the Laguna Art Museum rounded up twenty artists for American Gothic: Talent for the Dark Ages, which collectively is not as somber or as gloomy as the title suggests. A couple of the artists wouldn’t seem to be candidates for such a show, but each curator has their own vision, or at least their own agenda.
Where to start? A pair of canvases by Sherié Franssen can be seen straight ahead as one enters through the front doors, big expressionist works with the figurative aspect—impassioned outdoor lovers splashing in summer green—making its last stand. This style of painting has migrated from country to country throughout the twentieth century, but these are appealing, intriguing works nonetheless.
Two moderate-sized canvases by Jim Ovelmen depict Asian women in enigmatic garb, each woman seemingly aware of her counterpart, so that possibly these are pendants intended to be hung close together. The use of color is admirable, and so is the texture and the soft, ambiguous background. In this instance they frame three acrylic panels by Michael Hanson, whose busy sketchy caricatures fall somewhere in between Daumier and Charles Bragg.
“Enigmatic” is one of my favorite words, but it’s a coin I’ve already spent so I’ll need to find something else to express my feelings about Lisa Tucker. Her Dead Mirrors are just that. No reflections, fella; you’re dead. But it’s her My Wallpaper is Killing Me, One of Us Will Have to Go (Oscar Wilde) that is especially unsettling. The wall panel says: Ultra chrome prints on Epson enhanced matte paper (digitally manipulated of fat globules). There’s one other artist in the show that gives me an equal dose of the willies, and that’s Naida Osline and her photographs from a series called Vital Supports. These are, to some extent, parts of the body with unusual extensions (apparently, women really do have teeth down there), kept sufficiently vague and thus unsettling.
Osline’s work is hanging in proximity to Clayton Spada’s “blurry” paintings of figures, odd forms, really, reminiscent of those grainy pictures of Big Foot. One of the images seems to have a little sibling in Laurie Hassold’s Experimental Process Wall, a visual picnic blanket of sketches and various objects, some of them naggingly sexual. Less cluttered and maybe for that reason more approachable are the mixed media creations from her Mandibles and Mandalas series, which is, we are told, “a fictitious collaboration between Emily Dickinson and Charles Bukowski.”
Less confrontational is the Nitelite series by Rebecca Niederlander, in this case ten halved globes, each glowing a deep blue and hinting at some kind of nocturnal scene that barely eludes identification. They’re easy to bypass, since they do not call attention to themselves or go out of their way to shock, and thus may be the only really sublime objects in the show.
Compare them, for example, to Brian Cooper’s Gratification Management, garden pails and upholstered pillow-sized splashes strewn across the open floor of the main gallery. They have the color of Graham crackers. It is certainly an audacious, clever piece, but also the kind of endeavor that can mar a group show because the gimmickry clearly outweighs the artistry—and then one starts noticing the gimmickry that’s in some of the other works as well, but maybe wasn’t so evident at first.
Jeff Koegel’s CLXXVIII. Babylon is quite an accomplishment. This hyper-real and slightly abstract piece has a sure touch and a slightly layered or raised effect that seems to be the result of acrylic applied to strategically placed and cut pumice.
Yasuko has a set of pictures, tape transfer on canvas paintings, that appear to pay tribute to a departed relative, perhaps a grandmother, but it’s the artist’s large resin object, Mama Molar, that stands out—particularly the play of light on the enameled surface, the very faint greens and violets. It even comes in its own black velvet “coffin.”
Victoria Reynolds’ realistic portrayals of raw meat, such as Rashers, are a conversation stopper. Not sure that you’d want them hanging in the bedroom, or even on the kitchen wall for that matter, but they are exquisitely rendered.
Bloody flesh of a different kind can be sensed in David Early’s four encased paintings that depict nude men and women in the shower, each of them in a medicine cabinet-like frame: Evidently, one has been shot, one clobbered on the back, one castrated (or disemboweled), and one decapitated. They’re hanging beside a couple of pieces by Lee Clarke, including Young Boy with Skull, an infrared inspired painting in acrylic that appears on postcards promoting the exhibition. Whether the lad is contemplating his mortality or a career in the visual arts is anyone’s guess.
American Gothic: Talent for the Dark Ages is on display through Jan. 22 in Gallery C, 1225 Hermosa Avenue, Hermosa Beach. Hours, Tues., Wed., Fri. and Sat. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thurs. from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sun. from noon to 5 p.m. Other artists in the show include Jane Callister, Clayton Campbell, Jennifer Cello, Joseph Kearby, Adam Mars, and Thomas McGovern. Call 798-0102 or go to galleryc.com. ER