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.