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.