Monday, October 31, 2011

Being Heard

October Occupied

The month of October was the beginning of Sacramento’s emergence into the Occupy Wall Street movement. The interest in General Assembly and protest for economic change has gathered momentum on an international level spearheaded through multiple media platforms, and notwithstanding, the poster print continues to be an effective format. Paul Imagine is a local, silkscreen poster-artist that exemplifies the efficacy of this tradition.

Paul Imagine, Occupy, silkscreen, 2011
Imagine is best known for his rock poster art that he produces in limited silkscreen editions and posts throughout central hubs in Sacramento. His work has become iconographic in Sacramento’s urban grid and a collector’s item for the fortunate local that stumbles upon the fine prints as handbills. Most recently, Imagine has created a striking image as a call out to citizens to join the Occupy movement. In his signature style, Imagine rendered an anonymous figure to stand in for the labor force that is needed to dismantle the current economic structure. The design includes the movement’s unifying claim: “We are the 99%, we are the people.” The effectiveness of Imagine’s art continues to garner admiration and respect for its accessibility and consistency. He leaves them as free information and artwork for an engaged public. Working as a one-man production, Imagine’s public art expresses how individual contribution can assist in a collective effort.

Voice for the Voiceless

Malaquias Montoya, #2 Undocumented,
silkscreen, 1981
The exhibition Voice for the Voiceless by Malaquias Montoya is currently on view at the Center for Contemporary Art, Sacramento. The art of Montoya is one of social awareness that aims to give voice to those who are marginalized and advocates for social change. As one of the leading artists of the Chicano Art movement in Northern California during the 60s, Montoya presents visual expressions of humanity’s strengths and struggles through a comprehensive display of serigraphs, which includes early prints that continue to be relevant in our complex reality of the twenty-first century.

The main gallery displays predominantly the continued concerns of the Mexican migrant community in the United States. The revolving discussions on immigration in past and current presidential campaigning arenas make Montoya’s prints evermore urgent. The depictions of magueyes, barbed wires, agricultural fields, and immigrant workers are all interwoven into the macro narrative of migrant communities that survive along a border life, neither fully accepted nor rejected from their role in sustaining American industry. Montoya has closely studied the agonizing and complex situation of these disenfranchised. In #2 Undocumented from 1981, an entangled figure caught in barbed wire with traces of blood can be superficially viewed as a graphic image of the risks taken to cross the US/Mexican border, however, the image makes reference to the undocumented deaths and numerous crimes that go unreported amongst a population that is forced to live in silence.

Malaquias Montoya, #24 Torture,
silkscreen, 2005
Montoya has also produced a series of prints that speak out against capital punishment and strategies of war, such as #24 Torture from 2005. Here a contorted figure is rendered in a gestural angst that conveys a painful state. Montoya pairs his images with text to ensure a guided message to his viewer. Here, the definition of ‘torture’ is provided: “The act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.” However, Montoya includes the reference: “...Spreading Democracy,” bringing awareness to the forceful agenda of institutions under the guise of equality. As Montoya states, “My hope is that the viewer is unable to observe these images without feeling some culpability in these continued acts of violence that have been carried out in our name by our elected leaders. If we don't express opposition to these crimes, we too are maimed...”

Friday, September 30, 2011

Creative Casts

Laura Llano, Tunas, watercolor, n.d.
Comadres Artistas

The women based collaborative Comadres Artistas, has been active in the Sacramento area for over 20 years. These women have contributed as viable members in the Sacramento Chican@ community by supporting cultural and feminine values through their artistic production. To celebrate their achievements, the California Museum organized a retrospective exhibition titled Más Chisme de la Cultura (More Gossip of the Culture) that will run until the thirteenth of November.

Irma Barbosa, Comadre Enchilada, 2002
Laura Llano’s delicate watercolor Tunas centralizes its subject of the prickly pear fruit to dedicate a moment of contemplation and appreciation of the iconic plant so well loved in Mexican cuisine and culture. The nopal takes primary precedent in the creation story of ancient Mexico, where the Aztecs founded their city of Tenochtitlán, guided by the prophecy of an eagle devouring a serpent upon a cactus. In Tunas, Laura Llano transfigures the revered prickly pear and its fruit, paying homage to the sustenance and continuity of tradition.

Mareia de Socorro, Comadres, n.d.
Comadre Enchilada, a “joyful woman [that] might be anyone’s mother” by Irma Barbosa, similarly invokes the reverence of cuisine and culture. Moreover, Barbosa aggrandizes her figure beyond the confines of the domestic sphere, into the universal sphere that is shared by the comadre and the sun. The comadre’s tortilla can transpose as a moon, extending the relationship of women in an open public role. Barbosa repositions women as active forces within their greater community, pointing to the destabilization of patriarchal expectations and the aim to empower women.

The intimate composition by Mareia de Socorro compliments the repositioning and empowerment of feminine spheres and solidarity in Comadres. The tradition of the Catholic baptism prompts for the selection of god-parents which helps extend the nuclear family. Socorro uses brilliant color to emphasis emotive auras that bond the figures (bringing to mind the work of Marc Chagall), utilizing ritual tools such as the baptismal water, candle, and bible, as elements to narrate and enhance the communion. Comadres exemplifies in visual form many of the fundamental values sustained in the impressive trajectory of the Comadres Artistas.

Dave Andre, Installation, ceramics, 2011

The Center for Contemporary Art organized their sixth annual Capitol Artists’ Studio Tour which featured more than 150 artists and involved a number of spaces on and off the grid, offering an opportunity to experience the diversity of artistic approaches in the area. 

Towards the south end of Sacramento, one can find Panama Pottery, a dynamic space that produces commercial ceramics interwoven with professional art studios of an eclectic kind. Surrounded by massive retired kilns, the communal space houses a range of disciplines from woodwork, ceramics, even painting. The constructions by Randall Won engage a variety of media, from ceramic to cardboard, challenging the textural and dimensional capacity of his supports. In contrast, Dave Andre produces serial motifs of pigs and doll heads that are altered and at times arranged in conceptual situations. To circumvent the numerous pre-established associations with the figure of a pig, Andre manipulates features and plays up distinct attributes to create differentiation. In one setting, the placement of plump little piggys in formation, are pressured by large piggy-banks that usher them towards their doom. The loaded image makes available for a number of readings to an assuming public.

Aleksander Bohnak, You can't see everything
(with your back turned)
, multi-media
installation, 2011
At Verge Center for the Arts, Aleksander Bohnak’s installation You can’t see everything (with your back turned) appeared chaotic, even with the encouraging sign, almost pleading: “Feel free to enter!” still left doubt to proceed. The narrow walkway with wooden boards and multicolor tape protruding from various directions looked more like an obstacle course with potential liability. Even upon entering, the configuration did not get any clearer, only the eerie feeling of being recorded by the video camera at the other end. Live feed of the participant was actually being projected on a screen opposite the entrance. The camera is staged to capture the only viewpoint of the structural framework carefully composed by the artist and designed to accentuate the unsuspecting viewer. Where the participant sees chaos, the artist created order. The free-floating experience can be exhilarating in the viewer’s exploration of space and intention, however, Bohnak reserves the revelation of his design until the viewer turns to exit and finds themselves candidly within the fixating frame. Immediately, awareness of bodily perception is triggered, causing an ambivalent response between disturbance and delight towards the directed staging of theatrics. The installation was a refreshing alternative in Sacramento’s art scene. 
You can't see everything (with your back turned) (detail)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Local and National

Chris Botta Windows, n.d.
1/2 and 1/2

The E Street Gallery presents a dynamic display of two local artists, Chris Botta and Melanie Brown. As an alternative arrangement, the 1/2 Botta and 1/2 Brown exhibition displays the work by each artist in an alternating manner that almost blurs the distinction between the works, cueing the viewer for careful examination that is both intriguing and playful.

Each artist emphasizes bold primary colors applied with swift gestures, making these primaries the unifier within the exhibition. Upon close scrutiny, one can identify the distinct, technical control of line attributed to each artist. Botta’s lines are heavier, moving towards abstraction. In his painting Windows, three structural forms advance towards the foreground through color and gesture, while the background recedes with warmer flat tones. He stylizes his forms with rich color and texture that is reminiscent of neo-expressionism while sprinkled with the humor of West Coast funk.

Melanie Brown Yellow Bellied Nymph, n.d.
Brown’s compositions are for the most part intimate in scale, but dense with line, color, and subject. Staggered within the colors and forms, the viewer finds minute renderings of monkeys, people, and birds. She plays with both bold and delicate lines, somehow making these contrasts work. One example of Brown’s skilled draftsmanship is Yellow Bellied Nymph (hung outside of the Botta/Brown pairing which evidently would have disrupted the fluidity of the main gallery show). Here a female form, rendered without upper limbs, is poised upon a selection of lettuce, carrots, bananas, all in various stages of ripeness and decay, creating seductive and disruptive suggestions of the amorous figure. Browns’ unsettling playfulness with allegory and myth adds another intricate layer to the surfaces of her craft.

One Whole Nation

Axis Gallery is currently showcasing the 6th Annual National Juried Show, curated by Dena Beard, Assistant Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The juror notes the distinct conceptual approaches taken by the artists in the works displayed, each implementing methodologies such as investigative, anthropological, or geological in nature. However, most of the object-based works on display reflect conventional disciplines, predominantly painting, sculpture, and now photography. Only a hand full of works challenges these mediums. For a national show, one must question in what manner object-based art reflects the state of today’s art in the US. Further investigation must be prompted to continue the dialogue beyond the gallery wall.

Kelly Falzone Inouye Providing You Protection
for the Way You Live
, n.d.
One such prompting example is the piercing title Providing You Protection for the Way You Live from the work by Kelly Falzone Inouye. The colored pencil drawing of Marlin Perkins and a wild bird is a film still from the TV show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. This work is part of a series titled The Company You Keep, which analyzes the 60s show and its sponsor Mutual of Omaha, a health and liability insurance company. While the programming of Wild Kingdom aimed to find harmony between man and beast, Kelly redirects attention to more concrete interests by pairing these projected images with advertising slogans by the insurance company. For the contemporary viewer and the current affairs of health insurance, these pictorial and textual pairings exacerbate the statements as dubious promises contained within.

Jacqueline Langelier Untitled 4, n.d.
Returning to traditional art references, Jacqueline Langelier’s Untitled 4, plays with the canonical genre of still-life, restaging the iconic motif with modern photography using careful control of lighting, color, and composition. The attempt to encase the figure with all the historical trappings of the memento-mori is further defied by the contemporary figure and its humor. The clean and crisp images achieved by the modern idiom, captures a deceptive sense of permanence that disregards the reality of decay and mortality.

Peter Hiers Declaration of Dependence, n.d.
One of the few unconventional mediums that can be appreciated in the show is the work by Peter Hiers who uses found objects, specifically: tire treads. The fabricated rubber contains inherent associations with mass distribution systems tied with consumerism, as well as long-term ecological concerns. Hiers’ sculpture Declaration of Dependence reflects the graceful malleability of the material but denotes the dependency society has developed around this compound rubber. A major champion of this medium is the artist Chakaia Booker who has unpacked complex associations and characteristics, including femininity and blackness. In Heir’s series, there is a minimalist approach with a clear-cut critique.

Perhaps out of the 786 entries, a large part of the response was from California, as the West Coasters dominated the exhibition. Considering this outcome, can this show be considered more representative of our Golden State? Notwithstanding the evident strengths of the exhibition, for a national show, the diverse disciplines of the object-based arts were not as evident.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Engaging Environments

Jiayi Young, Shih-Wen Young, M. Azevedo,
7.9 M2, post-consumer materials, flour, paint,
2-channel audio, visualized sound, 2011
Chaotic Consumers

Designed to resemble 85 square feet of living space, 7.9 M2 is a collaborative installation on display at Axis Gallery, where post-consumer products were used to reconstruct a single-family home from Shanghai, China. The multi-media exhibition designed by artist/physicist couple Jiayi Young and Shih-Wen Young along with collaborator M. Azevedo, brings to the fore the social and environmental issues of a voracious consumer society.

Jiayi Young reproduces from memory the apartment where she lived with her parents as a child. By piecing together product packaging, the configuration is limited to two beds, a small table with two chairs, and a study area with shelves. A blue marker on the ground delineates the dimensions of the confined space. Disturbingly, the arrangement disrupts our expectations of lifestyle and underscores the over production of waste.
7.9 M2, (detail)

A sound visualizer projected onto the middle of the room magnifies our experience. By weaving sound clips from a 50s and 60s film produced by the US Department of Energy, a late-night commercial, and sci-fi sound effects, the omniscient narrator and spiraling waves produces a hypnotic trance. The collaborators aimed for the installation to “examine energy consumption and generation,” resulting in evidence of a carbon footprint of devastating proportions. Even the crude rainbow leaves a dreary sign of hope.


The exhibition Clusterfucks and Countryfolks of the work by Melinda and Melissa Arendt at Bows & Arrows continues the polarized argument between rural and urban environments.

Nostalgia for a more rural living plays out in the woodblocks by Melinda Arendt. The distinct hatch marks of carving with and against the grain of woodblocks compliments Melinda’s subject. However, these images are presented in a pre-packaged format, a rehashing of Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans, such as in her print of banjos, steins, and rockers.

Melissa Arendt, Layered Landscape 1, oil and pencil on
wood panel, 2011
The paintings by Melissa Arendt updates the binary discussion of environments by utilizing contemporary iconography fused together with clustered motifs. Layered Landscape 1 is a comparative contrast of glaciers and skyscrapers. Melissa developed as a unifying motif what appears as cellular clusters reminiscent of DNA, calling to mind the underlying organic structure shared amongst living organisms.
Nathan Cordero, Untitled, wooden
door panel, 2008


Nathan Cordero’s solo exhibition titled Are you destined to become your mother? at the Nelson Gallery brings together a prolific body of work predominantly from 2011. Cordero meshes the everyday in all aspects of his art—from object to subject. His primary material is found wood (door panels, plywood, etc.), which Cordero then reconstitutes into an aesthetic arrangement distinctly his own, forged relentlessly and continues to refine.

An example of his earlier work can be viewed in the 79” x 32” untitled, wooden door panel from 2008. A dense composition of staggered bottles in which to search for referents to memories and ruminations: playing cards, question marks, a pistol, Cordero in Old English lettering. The jagged, thinning panel is reinforced for a continuation of the delirious dream, simultaneously violent and delicate.

Nathan Cordero, Five Things, found wood, 2011
He is openly honest with his contemplations of common vices: cigarettes, alcohol, sex. He uses a language of his own, from simplified graphics to coded messages that reference the everyday. Works from 2011 give evidence of technical growth and refinement as seen in Five Things. Cordero demonstrates his mastered skill in carving intricate lines in unconventional supports. The simplified forms iconographic of his craft, sit pronounced within a void, imbuing the banal objects with an exquisite quality.

The 15" x 45" untitled, found wood and mixed media from 2011 is a formal investigation of his medium by stripping away at the found material, baring its raw processed fabric. Cordero reveals the splintering and jagged characteristics of the grain that he in turn constructs into an engaging, minimalist composition. Cordero delights his viewer with the flexibility and breadth of creativity that is reworked into what was once discarded.

Nathan Cordero, Untitled, found
wood and mixed media, 2011
Untitled, (detail)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Solo vs. Non Solo

Rio Yañez, Decolonize These,
Purikura photograph, 2011

As a nod to the Facebook boom, the exhibition Miráme (Look at me) by guest curator Ella Díaz, simulated the layout and the prevailing standard of the individual page or “shrine to self”—as Díaz noted. The main gallery of La Raza Galería Posada was guised in the duo-tone of blue and white, while emphasizing imagery and downplaying explanatory text. However, Miráme presented subversive self-portraits. The works challenge preconceived ideas about culture and race, and at times, evade categorization.

The “graffiti photos” by San Francisco artist Rio Yañez are tactical bi-products of the Japanese Purikura craze. Posing with artist and educator Maya Chinchilla, Decolonize These uses cotton-candy colors and glitz in which to interpolate critical statements. The top frames are outward references to decolonization and institutionalism. Below, covert approaches are used such as the Central-American slag púchica, sometimes equated with the Western fuck, while Sleeper Cells seek to resist opposition. Yañez employs glaring kitsch to compete with the overstimulated visual culture that is our world today. The use of Purikura points to globalized linguistics that move beyond traditional language systems, where visual language becomes rapidly accessible and appropriated at the local level. Similar exchanges can be appreciated in Japan with their adaptations of the lowrider in Chicano culture.

Deborah Roberts, Inaccessible me #2 (detail)
Prevailing racial biases are addressed in works by Austin artist Deborah Roberts and costume designer Dante Baylor. In Inaccessible me #1 and #2 from 2010, Roberts renders a female antagonist of the late 19th century children’s book character the Golliwog, a black figure with prominent white eyes and red rounded lips.[1] The use of this controversial figure depicted in frustration over afro-textured hair, with blond extensions, underscores the complex role and associations attributed to hair within society. Baylor’s inventive composition echoes this issue in his image with Barbie in the forefront and Christina Aguilera in the background. The African-American is encased by the paragon of blond straight hair, expressing the contradictory cycle of conformity.

Deborah Roberts, Inaccessible me #1 and #2,
mixed media, 2010
Dante Baylor, Good Hair, photograph, 2001
The show gathered a number of artists, bridged together through the common theme of self-representation. However, as artists historically toe the line between public and private spheres, the reference to Facebook points to contemporary social network practices that curator Díaz characterizes as “a larger social malaise and alienation in the virtual photo albums that we carefully create in our online shrines to self”—symptoms brought upon ourselves as we negotiate our private and public selves.

[1] Marilynn Olson, “Turn-of-the-Century Grotesque: The Uptons’ Golliwogg and Dolls in Context,” Children’s Literature, 28 (2000): 73-94.


The two-man show at B. Sakata Gallery brings a series of collages by bay-area artists Matt Gonzalez and Gustavo Ramos Rivera in the exhibition titled Codices Urbanos. Harking back to ancient Mesoamerican recording systems that range from pictographs to hieroglyphs, these contemporary collages offer a variety of experimentations in material, color, and textures while updating these codices with the modern language of abstraction. The densely pasted images, colors, and texts offer a visual language system for today’s urban society.

Matt Gonzalez, Untitled, collage, 08/11/2010
A close observation of this duo exhibition reveals a greater strength in the work by Gonzalez. His compositions demonstrate keen application and use of objets trouvé in unifying disparate elements to compose an engaging whole. Gustavo Ramos Rivera’s strongest medium is paint. Without the control of line and textures that he demonstrates in oil, Ramos Rivera’s collages lack guiding elements to structure his forms. Gonzalez, on the other hand, skillfully arranges his architectural compositions, appearing like miniature sculptures suspended on paper. Untitled from August 11, 2010 shows Gonzalez’ skill with color and shape, as well as interesting snippets of suggestive text.

Matt Gonzalez, Untitled, collage 09/2010
Matt Gonzalez served as a progressive politician and activist. His collage offers as a vehicle to express deep-rooted political and social concerns. Untitled dated September 2010 is a tribute to the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence in 1810 and the centennial of the Mexican revolution in 1910. The image is a reprint of Tina Modotti’s Men Reading El Machete from the 1920s. El Machete was a radical publication founded by the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors of Mexico for politically engaged artists.[1] However, Gonzalez pastes over the newspaper the laborer holds in his hand, denying the viewer a key focal point. As the Syndicate sought to carry over the agenda of the revolution, 100 years later, these principles continue to be challenged and negated.

Matt Gonzalez, Romeo and Juliette,
collage, 05/09/2011
As a playful arrangement, Romeo and Juliette from May 9, 2011 involves a variety of cigar labels that juxtapose and intersect one another, their emblems almost dance within the composition (reminiscent of Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie). This colorful homage to the Latin American puro, is represented by the Cuban-founded brand Romeo and Juliette, pointing to two stimulating agents: the tonic aromatics of the cigar and one of the most preeminent stories about love. Perhaps a personal vignette to surviving life through intoxication and myth, and within this duo exhibition, Matt Gonzalez emerged the victor.

[1] John Lear, “La revolución en blanco, negro y rojo: arte, política, y obreros en los inicios del peródico El Machete,” Signos Históricos, 15 (2006): 108-147.

Non Solo

An unconventional traveling exhibition visits the Center for Contemprary Arts of Sacramento (CCAS) with an offbeat approach to exhibiting, and made visitors into participants in an engaging dialogue. A collective of eight artists from diverse disciplines based out of New York presented as Non Solo agreed to jump in a van for six weeks to travel the country and collaborate on site-specific shows.

NonSolo van parked in front of CCAS, 06/11/2011
The journey was initiated by Margaret Coleman, who yearned to go on tour and analogized that the experience of touring musicians can be applied to visual artists as well. A group of daring and committed artists accepted the proposal, finding the project as a challenge to the secluded individual practice and offered to explore new avenues filtered through the collective to introduce contemporary art. Each stop along their journey presents a new venue and the creative task to construct and exhibit their work. CCAS is one of the few conventional spaces visited with white gallery walls and technical lighting as opposed to the warehouse, café, conservatory, and other alternative spaces on the tour. Upon entering the gallery, the individual art works vie for appreciation; the variety is striking:

Stephen Eakin, Untitled, photographs, n.d.
Margaret Coleman, Smells Like Crapitalism, mixed media, n.d.
Stephen Eakin’s red markers are carefully constructed with a combination of exploratory and reportage approaches to record the sites and geographical coordinates covered by Non Solo. Here, Eakin printed his documentation and crafted professional frames on-site. The last image on the right shows the marker placed at CCAS’ front entrance just below the 1519 address. Margaret Coleman displays paradoxical signage, Smells like Crapitalism, a self-critical sign that simultaneously attacks itself by utilizing neon-lighting, the quintessential medium associated with storefront marketing. A provocative installation by Anna Marie Shogren, In my bedroom: isolation is not inconspicuous, covers the main gallery floor with white sheets, varying in textures, methodically sewn on-site as well. The isolated figure at one end of the main gallery points to how efforts for invisibility and self-reliance fail within society. Here the work creates a conflicting relationship, creating tension between the figure and the viewer, denying concealment, heightening presence, effectively arguing its premise: isolation is not inconspicuous. The exhibition also included paintings by Heather Elizabeth Garland, performance by Jason Gaspar, video by Will Hempel, and multi-media by Bonnie Kaye Whitfield. Outside of the individual objects, the merch-table is where to find object-based collaborations, merchandise the group creates at low cost for the consumer to help raise their petty-cash.

Anne Marie Shogren, In my bedroom: isolation is not
, mixed media and performance, 2011
Within the main gallery, the panel of artists was presented by CSUS Professor Elain O'Brien who served as mediator for the conversation. The talk introduced the Non Solo tour, expressing the successes and difficulties at each intermittent stop, as well as the pragmatic and emotional negotiations exchanged along the way. Visitors had the opportunity to chime in on the discussion and vicariously experience the journey. Every voice carried equal weight, presenting the collaboration as an effective approach in pulling together resources, developing a structured network, and producing as a cooperative without losing individuality. However, once the panel was removed and new visitors entered the gallery, only the objects remained, losing the opportunity for the collective immersion.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Keeping it Local

Martínez demonstrating the pedal loom at
La Raza Galería Posada during May's
Second Saturday, 2011
Oaxacan Textiles

From floor to ceiling, the main gallery of La Raza Galería Posada was draped with colorful Zapotec tapestries by master weaver Sergio Martínez. Stationed in a corner, Martínez demonstrated his skilled hand at the pedal loom. He is a descendant from a long line of master weavers that continues the family business in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.

Zapotec textiles are the main commodity produced in the Teotitlán region, gaining international fame in the 1930s and 40s. Local flora and fauna provide the resources for dyes and thread. Originally woven with ixtle (fibers extracted from the agave), wool has been the raw material of choice since introduced by the Spanish.[1] Not only do local resources help preserve the distinct characteristics of these textiles, but also the patrimony of the designs. The exhibition displayed the array of vibrant color and geometric patterns, demonstrating the distinct palette and structure that makes each textile unique.

The production and international acclaim of Zapotec textiles had both successes and contentious debates in a challenging market. In the 80s and 90s, US southwestern merchants in response to the interior design boom in Santa Fe sought the low-cost weavers of southern Mexico to produce northern Native American designs.[2] This style is most recognized by the centralized diamond as a popular motif. As anthropologist Warner Wood has noted, US businessmen influenced the production in Teotitlán workshops “initially creating new designs and overseeing the dyeing of wool into colors they [knew] would sell well in the US Market. Eventually nearly every aspect of textile production, from design creation to wool and yarn preparation and dyeing, would come under their control, except for that actual work at the loom.” (Wood 139) However, Wood continues, many Zapotec families have since adapted to the flexibility of the market and took back the control of their production.

Martínez' interpretation of Mesoamerican
pictorials and hieroglyphs
The skill of the Teotitlán weavers include interpretations of modern works of art to dynamic collaborations with contemporary artists.[3] Sergio Martinez’ production is an example of the flexibility that is needed to preserve his native tradition and fuel innovation. By founding outlets in both Sacramento and Teotitlán, Martinez is in direct control of production and sale of his work. The larger of his looms are in Teotitlán. Only one individual works on a textile as each person has his or her own “hand.” Weaving is an extensive technological procedure that by changing the hand at the weave, the result may be tighter or looser and inevitably resulting in a warped product. However, as the “tables turn,” the Oaxacan tradition is now threatened by low-cost weavers in India. Martinez is not concerned, he has produced numerous designs and their duplication does not bother him. He is ultimately a prolific artist that has demonstrated his boundless creativity.

[1] Shasta Darlington, “Magic carpet: Tiny town’s textiles work charm on market,” Business Mexico 5 (1995): 12-14.
[2] Warner Wood, “Flexible Production, Households, and Fieldwork: Multisited Zapotec Weavers in the Era of Late Capitalism,” Ethnology, 39 (2000): 133-148.

Sacramento Spirit

International visual and performing artist David Garibaldi, also a Sacramento native, painted a mural last Second Saturday celebrating the May 3rd announcement that the NBA Kings will stay in Sacramento. In the span of four hours, Garibaldi rendered portraits of Kings fans that were submitted to him through social networks. Not only was Garibali enthused to support the fans of Sacramento, he sought “to show the diversity of the city.”

David Garibaldi creating the Be Heard mural during May's
Second Saturday, 2011
In the Garibaldesque fashion, hip-hop and pop music echoed throughout the grid and the crowds on the corner of J and 20th witnessed his traffic stopping performance. Facing a black billboard, mounted on a basket crane and equipped with a brush in both hands, Garibaldi swiftly formed the faces of euphoric fans, while simultaneously controlling the banter of the on-looking crowds.

Garibaldi is still quite young and already a successful artist. He began his career with graffiti where he honed his skills of working in large formats by utilizing one of the complex canvases available: the city. His ability to create iconic images with energetic gusto has become his signature style. Garibaldi has taken possession of a traditional art form, has challenged the canon and made it accessible to a wider audience.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Multiple Media Avenues

Sacramento International Film Festival: Portraits of Greatness

The Sacramento International Film Festival presented two short films showcasing the biographies of two visual artists—both whom are considerably overlooked. The first short Positive Negatives: The Art of David Johnson introduces David Johnson, the first African American who studied photography under Ansel Adams in the late 30s. Following this film was the feature Eloy Take Two on Eloy Torrez, a Los Angeles artist that has painted landmark Hollywood murals of which authorship often goes unknown.

Positive Negatives chronicles the decades of the life and art of David Johnson. The story is presented as a photo album from his humble beginnings, to his studies with Ansel Adams, to capturing the urban landscape, and well into the civil rights movement. Most notable was Johnson’s interest in capturing the jazz scene of the 40s and 50s in the intimate dance halls of San Francisco. He mastered the complexities of contrasts amongst his African American subjects such as dark skin in shadows, finding richness in subtle tone variations. With these nuances, Johnson’s work captured the energy of the nightclubs as dancers and performers swayed to the popular jazz of the period. He recorded the tensions of the times while supporting the civil rights demonstrations. Johnson prevailed in his own right by emerging as a photographer in a field that historically marginalized minority groups.

Leaping forward into the 80s through the twenty-first century, Eloy Take Two surveys the work of Eloy Torrez. It is a jovial film that takes the audience into the private day-to-day activity of the artist and his work. The most emblematic is his mural of Anthony Quinn dancing as Zorba the Greek painted in 1985 on the Victor Clothing Company building in downtown LA. Using saturated colors and dramatic lighting, Torrez’s murals glow as if radiating an innate energy. Most people that frequent the Los Angeles metropolitan area have seen at least one Torrez mural, yet most often the artist goes unnoticed, perhaps overshadowed by the popularity of his subjects. Although most of his murals celebrate humanity and its accomplishments, there is a grim undercurrent that Torrez reserves for his more intimate paintings. Torrez's work as a whole reflects the continual challenge of seeking to capture the enigma of life.

The weighty documentary Positive Negatives contrasted by the lighthearted tone of Eloy Take Two created a disjointed transition between the films. Perhaps this stark contrast was an intentional pairing to underscore generational changes. Nonetheless Portraits of Greatness puts forth informative films on two visual artists that have gone underrated for far too long.

Works on paper from the collection of Ada Brotman

There was an impressive attendance at the silent auction of the Ada Brotman collection held at the Law Offices of Michael Solomon. The number of bids was equally striking, since recession continues to be top of mind. It was the exceptional cadre of regional artists in the collection that stirred so much response. Despite the lack of dates on the works presented, Brotman’s collecting gives evidence of a fairly comprehensive survey of the Central Valley’s art activity from the 60s through the 80s. The Sacramento teacher from Ohio was able to amass a valuable art collection, which comprised predominantly of works on paper.

Fred Dalkey, Nude woman next to window,
mixed media, n.d.
It is the works on paper that reveal early ruminations and initial developments that now distinguish the well-established milieu. Fred Dalkey’s Nude woman next to window, involves mixed media, where the flatness of the windows is contrasted by the minute definitions applied to the nude. It is not often that Dalkey renders such uniform geometries; his drawings most often tend to define volumes. As a master of space, Dalkey angles his frames to give the illusion of dimension, convincingly rendering the glow of loft windows.

There was also the spectacular serigraph by Luis Jimenez, Honky Tonk. Two dancers in rodeo costume twirl in an embrace are rendered in the artists’ signature hatching and finished with dazzling glitter. Woman in a Boat by Roy DeForest employs mix media of colorful lines, applied swiftly, angling a speed boat across the plain, capturing velocity with quick simple strokes. In Man/Woman, Luis Cruz Azaceta uses colored pencil on paper to depict the stylized self-portrait iconographic of Cruz Azaceta’s work. Here, the half-length portrait stops at the stomach and is connected to its opposite pair: a woman, drawn upside-down, as both figures are fused at the waists. These works on paper constitute strengths of their own in terms of complexity and execution. The Brotman collection demonstrates how this medium can account for an intellectually valuable and economically accessible art.

Virtual reality

The gallery was alarmingly dark, suggestive of the dramatic change of space and objects. The Real-Fake exhibition at the Sacramento State University Library brings the latest avant-garde that challenges the art world: Computer Generated Imagery (CGI).

The viewer is first greeted by the familiar image of the female nude. The Seasons from 2009 by Claudia Hart utilizes a projected HD video with stereo sound that displays a comatose nude, faintly breathing in her chair with her head thrown back. The figure revolves on a circular platform and as she turns, her flesh begins to bulge and vines slowly emerge from her body. The viewer, equipped with the proper headphones by the gallery attendant, hears the crackling that intends to simulate sounds of the sprouting vines and leaves that bloom with flowers, even crickets chirp in the background. As the figure begins to come around halfway, the vines begin to retreat and the blooms dissolve, returning to the smooth skinned, languid body. The captivating cycle occurs in one single revolution, only to cycle through again, infinitely...
Claudia Hart, The Seasons (detail), HD video, 2009
The Seasons (detail)

A total of four projections accompanied by audio can be observed. A flat screen on the floor and angled against a wall showed Real Flow by Tiumur Si-Qin produced this year. It is a video of an anonymous head whose facial angles are revealed by a metallic flow that runs endlessly over the face. Large Mac monitors display the virtual spaces, impossible objects, and digital bodies that push the lines between real and fake. These forms are given dimension, yet only through the confines of technological media. Interestingly, there is an eerie void that is revealed when the lights are turned on: the blank walls that were used to project HD video, tall white pedestals supporting large white Mac monitors only accompanied by black ear-phones (outside of Sheldon Brown’s “power ball” interactive)—this was the extent of the objective world that remained of that reality.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Symbol, Index, and Icon

A Deflated Status Symbol

There is an element of pleasure that can be enjoyed through the inventive humor and wit in the work by sculptor Linda Fitz Gibbon. Her exhibition Not your grandmother’s Wedgwood on display at B. Sakata Garo Gallery playfully challenges historical notions of high culture.

Linda Fitz Gibbon, Not your grandmother's
, hand built ceramic, n.d.
Fitz Gibbon utilizes the style of pastel colors and porcelain figures designed in the eighteenth century by Wedgwood, which in turn was inspired by classical Greek and Roman pottery. The Wedgwood design was an exclusive delicate ware popular amongst the English royalty and its elites. Fitz Gibbon adopts this style of pottery as a motif from which to explore and subvert ideas of refinement, status, and tradition.

In Leda & the Swan, Cup Runneth Over Wedgwood Series, a hand built ceramic, Fitz Gibbon quotes the classical myth of Leda that is ravished by Zeus in guise of a swan. Leda is depicted as submerged in the vessel with only arms and legs in sight, embracing a plastic swan. The vessel references ancient Greek calyx-kraters of red and black design, adorned by figurative narrations. Fitz Gibbon duplicates the tradition however in the fashion developed by Wedgwood. The early industrial fabrications are then exacerbated as Fitz Gibbon creates a pastiche of eighteenth-century interpretations of classical pottery. Fitz Gibbon’s krater overflows with reconstructions with a comical nature, which eventually deflates the original meaning. Here, Leda and the swan now embody a twenty-first-century, fatal expression of semiotic entropy.

Indexical Prints

One of the powers of photography is the potential to offer contiguity with cultures, geographies, even ideas through its indexical print. The photography currently on display at Viewpoint Gallery, Beyond Borders: Immigration Images and Stories brings people, communities, and the grappling issue of immigration to the fore.

Beyond Borders features the work of established photographer David Bacon and the studies of Fulbright Fellow Kathya Landeros. Both photojournalists have dedicated their efforts to access and address the transnational experience of immigrants predominantly between Mexico and the United States. Landeros states: “If one can accept that the history of migratory policy toward Mexico has been complicated as we negotiate between our demands for labor and our need for cultural sovereignty, then we can acknowledge that the migrant communities that have developed in Mexico are a manifestation of these complexities.” These images and texts of immigrants constructing community throughout their journey express the fluidity of human adaptation and survival, while highlighting the stymieing nature of political processes.

Kathya Landeros, "Carnaval" when many migrants return
home from the United States
, silver gelatin print, Jalisco,
Mexico, 2008
Landero’s image “Carnaval” when many migrants return home from the United States, a sliver gelatin print taken in Jalisco, Mexico in 2008, captures a season of celebration. Past and present are highlighted in sepia contrasts, as we see the modern American car transposed against colonial architecture. The print allows us to catalog with exactitude a historical trajectory of the present day Carnaval. The event not only offers an opportunity for migrants to return home and participate in a rooted community but also contribute to the transformation of the local.


The whimsical woodwork by John Buck dazzles with fine precision as well as critical commentary. The exhibition Iconography at the Crocker presents a comprehensive collection of the array of methods in which Buck utilizes wood, mastering the unique properties of his medium for an individual language that is accessible to a universal audience.

From woodblock prints to sculptures and an array of shadowboxes, Buck arranges symbols and icons to communicate poignant criticisms. One such icon is the dodo bird, a figure Buck uses as the central focus on a series of prints. Rendered with fine lines behind the bird are monumental structures of religion, education, and government. As the dodo has come to symbolize something that is or will be out of date, Buck draws parallels of this notion with current social and political institutions.

Other works are not as clearly defined however they offer an equal weight in meaning with their suggestions. Nine Quarter Circle from 1996 involves a large square panel against the wall with a freestanding, headless female figure positioned front and center. A bare branch lays across the figure’s shoulders balancing a shadow box on one end and a hanging head in profile on the other. The box on the branch holds delicately carved figures, the large square panel contains recessed boxes with miniature geometrical sculptures, while the hanging head in profile is hollowed out with a box of its own, displaying eyes and possible organs. The entire construction is carved in unfinished wood, and only a quartered circle drawn in graphite unities the arrangement. The composition is surreal, but nonetheless expresses a tension, a teetering, perhaps displaying how our current humanity is trying to hold itself in a balance.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Community Dialogues

Lou Dematteis, Justicia ¡Ya!, photograph, 2003
Human Banners

Projecting back a pressing cry for justice and awareness, the photography of Lou Dematteis gives voice to individuals at the grass-roots level of the Amazon. The image Justicia ¡Ya! is part of a series Dematteis calls Human Banners, where he utilizes people or objects to communicate succinct messages on socio-ecological issues. Justicia ¡Ya! involves indigenous and other community members in Ecuador supporting a legal case against Texaco-Chevron for its negligent disposal of toxic wastes.

La Raza Galería Posada hosted an evening with Lou Dematteis to share his work as a photojournalist and the larger effort that seeks restitution. Dematteis opened with the thirty minute documentary Justicia Now which traces developments of legal action along with documentation and testimonies of high cancer rates and escalating environmental losses. The film shows Ecuador's northern section of the Amazon marked with gaping scars from drilling and disposal, demanding immediate protection of the nation's most fertile zones. Amongst the vast devastation, hope resounds with the promising actions on behalf of the government and local groups that propose to save the Amazon--not only as a local imperative but also as a global concern.

The evening with Lou Demetteis opened a dialogue with attendants that offered greater awareness of pending issues that are now exacerbated with the recent BP spill in the Gulf. Moreover, urban exploitation of natural resources forces the continued culture clash with indigenous communities. The image of Justicia ¡Ya! is a direct open call from Ecuadorian soil for ecological solidarity to the global community.

The Inferno

Who said painting is dead? The quote is profusely attributed to nineteenth century painter Paul Delaroche who proclaimed this conclusion upon the advent of the Daguerrotype. Photographic accuracy of the objective world was no longer the burden of skilled painters. However, Gottfried Helnwein renders his canvases with intense veracity, as though to lose oneself in the painting in order to escape the horrors it portrays.

Gottfried Helnwein, Murmur of the Innocents,
mixed media on canvas, 2010
Murmur of the Innocents is the solitary figure of a prepubescent girl laying on her back, transfixed. Her eyes tear as she gasps for air in her paralyzed state of shock. Omitted from this image is the opening of the jacket as it continues to split below the abdomen. The scene suggests the remnants of rape, making the viewer confront its implications. For Helnwein, there was an innocence lost growing up in post-war Austria after its complicity with Nazi Germany. The image of a young girl is recast into an icon of innocence that is tortured in an adult constructed inferno. Helnwein unveils the abject of humanity, reminding us of its pitfalls.

Murmur of the Innocents is part of the exhibition Inferno of the Innocents showing at the Crocker Art Museum, which will feature a screening of the documentary The Silence of Innocence on March 3rdThe film will be followed by a panel discussion with local art professionals: Technocultural Studies Professor Jesse Drew at UCD, Artist Iana Frisby, Art History Professor Elaine O'Brien at CSUS. This opportunity will offer viewers a chance to participate in an open dialogue of Helnwein's work.

The peculiar engagement of collecting

Another open forum presented itself with the screening of Herb and Dorothy at the Crest Theatre; a film on the curious couple from limited means that were able to amass an extensive art collection that include prominent artists of the second half of the last century. The viewing was a collaboration between the Verge Center for the Arts and the Crest to present films pertinent to the art community. Artist Liv Moe lead the panel discussion with art professionals: Nelson Gallery Director Renny Pritikin at UCD, Artist Stephen Kaltenbach, Art Professor Annabeth Rosen at UCD.

The film demonstrated the comprehensiveness of the collection, while highlighting the love story that made it possible. Interestingly, the discussion that followed helped distinguish more concrete realities underneath the romanticized interpretation. Herb and Dorothy Vogle cultivated for themselves intimate relationships within the network of New York galleries and artists--relationships that were not always clearly defined. The vast majority of the collection are works on paper, complex studies, and a few fully realized works. The couple had gathered over 4,ooo objects in their holdings, and only a fraction of the collection was discussed in the film. This is consistent with general practices of any repository. Works of distinguished and popular merit receive the most exposure, perpetuating positions of what is and is not displayed.The exceptional story shows how two unexpected individuals challenged the norms within the complex art world. However, the manner in which the Vogels engulfed themselves in their collecting moved dangerously into the realm of accumulation.

Monday, January 31, 2011

New Spaces and New Generations

New Spaces: The Nelson

The Richard L. Nelson Gallery and Fine Art Collection at Davis has more than tripled the square footage of exhibition space, offering greater possibilities for displaying concurrent shows. As the birthplace of the Funk Movement, Davis was positioned as a major artistic center during the 60s and 70s. This creative activity laid a solid foundation for the visual arts in the Central valley, which continues to resonate to this day. In celebration of the new space, a number of accomplished artists are displayed, showcasing in particular the legacy of the Davis Five: Arneson, Neri, Wiley, Thiebaud, and de Forest.

Wayne Thiebaud, Trophy Table, oil on canvas, 1954
One exciting probability is how early works reveal some interesting surprises. An unexpected find is a Wayne Thiebaud painting from 1954, Trophy Table. The composition involves unclear objects in muted tones. There is rigidity in the brushwork, making the forms tense and unstable. Nonetheless, these are valued objects and there is an attempt to animate them, give them vibrancy. Moreover, there is evidence of the present Thiebaud: His gravitation towards rich color is seen in this painting by the curious use of fugitive silver paint.

William T. Wiley, Hide as a State of Mind, lithograph, 1971
Another pleasure for the eyes is Hide as a State of Mind, a lithograph by Wiliam T. Wiley from 1971. However, Wiley simultaneously delights and frustrates. The surface objectively pleases the visual senses although the subject may be disturbing or obscure. Wiley presents a cartographic image that may suggest a route, a destination, but there is nowhere to go. The map is bisected by a range pole offering two polarized options: an iceberg or a desolate mountain. The startled figure in the lower right obstructs a warning: “God only knows what we we’re,” exposing? expecting? perhaps exploding? The viewer is left to her/his wits, to question reality, our environment, our world and ourselves. Wiley not only visually stimulates but also critically challenges his viewer.

A sculptural work that challenges the viewer in other ways is Glass Bell by Paul Kos from 1991. It involves a fairly rudimentary design using sheets of glass separated by small wooden blocks. The glass is marked with silkscreened circles varying their positions from sheet to sheet creating the visual illusion of a bell. The viewer becomes participant in moving around the sculpture, observing how the bell alludes to a three dimensional form. As the viewer squats to eye level with the sheets, the bell disappears. This playful deception of space induces us to rethink our presumptions, exemplifying how art offers alternative and fascinating ways to perceive our world.
Paul Kos, Glass Bell (detail), mixed media, 1991
Glass Bell (detail)
New Generations: Jason Caldera

The first public showing of Jason Caldera’s work accounts for a number of elemental concerns—exhibiting for the first time, entrepreneurialism in the art world, the science of painting, a genealogical retrospective—and to tackle them all in one sitting is quite admirable. Out of passion for the arts and interest in exposure, Caldera organized his cohorts in the multidisciplinary studio spaces on P and 21st to host their first Open Studio.

Jason Caldera, A not so obvious metaphor for the three states
of consciousness: Past, Present, Conditional
oil on canvas, 2011
The three sizable panels completed this year titled, A not so obvious metaphor for the three states of consciousness: Past, Present, Conditional served as a point of entry to Caldera’s work. Using additional mediums and solvents to manipulate his oils, Caldera created translucent varnishes of primary colors, laying one over another without mixing, allowing the eye to observe the layers and the optical blending. Textures, ridges, marks, all contribute to the visual color-play on the vast canvases. Past contains a red veil of downward strokes, broken by swift vertical cuts, Present is a haze of colorful cloud formations, ending with Conditional, which repeats elements from the previous two. Curiously, there is an interruption in this third panel by a group of arrows or fossilized fish, suggestive of cave painting. In A not so obvious metaphor what becomes obvious is the life principle of progress; there is an interest in progression when going into the unknown, nonetheless marked by the possibility of cycling and returning to the beginning.

Jason Caldera, Open Windows, 2005
Notwithstanding, there is a freshness in beginnings. Caldera’s earlier works demonstrates a diligence that can be admired. Open Windows is a canvas from 2005 that gives evidence of his eye for color, interest in perception, and compositional development. This was the last painting completed where Caldera used “semi-dry paint layers to create a sense of false perspective.”[1] By using relatively pure pigments, Caldera exploited the advancing and receding effects brought about by color interaction. Moreover, Caldera honed in a skill for patterns, finding comfort in seriality as a rhythmic interplay that is instinctively followed by the eye and induces an aesthetic response.

Open Windows, 2005
These paintings neatly summarize the consistency in Caldera’s work, however, not only in its formalism and essential concepts, but they also served as an autobiographical introspection. As a fundamental influence in his work, Caldera organized a modest posthumous retrospective of his grandfather, Frederick ‘Bill’ Carmen who recently past this last November. Born in 1925, Bill Carmen was a skilled draftsman with a passion for whimsical color. It is clear how Carmen was instrumental in the development of Caldera’s painting. One distinct work on paper shares visual similarities to Wiliam T. Wiley’s Hide as a State of Mind, without the despairing criticism. An amorphous form in blue tones and delicate ink drawing appears as an explosion of instruments minutely rendered amongst abstract forms and music notes. Carmen’s intimate composition is a celebration of the auditory and visual senses. Likewise, the evening served as a delightful crossroads of generations through a celebration of art.

[1] Event pamphlet, 01/31/2011.