Perhaps it was the bitter cold that made scurrying into all those (mostly) warm galleries so gratifying. Maybe I was just in a highly receptive mood to partake in the visual arts. Or it could be the novelty of using my new iPhone to document my journey in real time on Facebook. Whatever the reason, I had a grand time at ArtHop last night. Some highlights:
From the outside, I can imagine that Gallery 25′s vibrant window display will be confusing drivers all month:
Cheap gas, anyone?
Inside, I found a vibrant show laced with a skewering political sensibility. The Appropriation Project, a group made up of Gallery 25 member Diran Lyons, Desiree D’Alessandro and Byron Russell, put together “Oil and War: A Critical Remix Festival.” Entries were solicited for this video genre in which artists combine video and images from different sources to make political statements that are often different from the original intent.
The mixes I watched were pretty scathing: a rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” set to wartime explosions; a cheerful oil-company commercial sound bite blandly proclaiming the supremacy of fossil fuels juxtaposed with ravaged scenes of drilling disasters; a perky energy-conglomerate spokesperson’s soothing words about clean water set to scenes of frightening skin diseases. I didn’t have a chance to watch all the entries, but I hope to post a link here to a YouTube page.
Aesthetically, I was more attracted to Lyons’ big, imposing petroleum-themed art. He takes iconic logos and toys with them a little — a backwards “N” in “Exxon,” for example — to interesting effect. You’d think, with all those big, bright primary colors and nostalgic logos — who doesn’t remember as a kid on a road trip pulling into a filling station with your parents, a chance to get out of the car and stretch your legs? — that Lyons’ art would feel almost cheery. But there’s something almost cold and menacing about it. I like the subversive streak.
DOWNTOWN COMMUNITY ARTS COLLECTIVE
A double exhibition by Christopher Scharnick and Jordan Maliksi had a nice, welcoming vibe in the Downtown Community Arts Collective, a rambling and eclectic space. Both the artists are recent grads of the Fresno State MA program. I’ve been a fan of Scharnick’s intense photo-realistic painting style ever since I saw his work a couple of years ago in a Corridor 2122 show. Back then I wrote:
The human figures are bleached and vaguely dreamy in contrast to the hyper-realistic background. In an artist statement, Scharnick informs the viewer that schizophrenia runs in his family, and while these depictions of his relatives are from happier times when the disease was not affecting lives, there is a strong sense of foreboding as the artist seems to reflect inevitable anxiety over its genetic nature. In the painting of the mother, part of the power of the image is how much more vivid are the non-human elements that dominate the landscape: a nondescript upholstered brown chair, a closet door with prominent doorknob. Both seem so much more substantial than the wispy toddler figure. Could it be that schizophrenia slowly saps away a person’s connection to the world?
I got a chance at this show to meet Scharnick, pictured above with his “Hand Me Down.” (The baby in the center of the above painting is his mother, presumably at her first birthday party. Scharnick bases his paintings in this show on old family photos.) Just as in Lyons’ oil-company art at Gallery 25, there’s a sense in Scharnick’s show of playing against nostalgia — for a certain generation, sitting down to a box of your parents’ faded snapshots was practically a rite of passage — by injecting a sense of melancholy into the proceedings.
These paintings are the story of his mother’s illness, but they’re also a worry about the roots of that illness. Tellingly, Scharnick points out his maternal grandfather in several of the paintings, a bland, clean-cut young man wearing a tie and gazing at the camera with a collected air, who suffered himself from mental illness, and it’s impossible not to think of a genetic connection that seems to crackle between the two. Overall, it’s somber work and very thoughtful, and the artist himself when talking about it shows much the same demeanor. He told me his mother is comfortably institutionalized now and content — and she has seen his art and is proud of it. She should be.
I also had a chance to chat with Maliksi, who enjoys working with big canvases. His works are mixed media drip paintings with line drawings on top of them, and they reminded me of big, colorful murals. Here’s a pic of him with one of his larger works:
SPECTRUM ART GALLERY
You never know what you’re going to get with an Ed Gillum show, but chances are it’s going to be something that bends the genre. In his show “Shopping Basket Lives,” at Spectrum Art Gallery, he uses what he describes as a hybrid narrative of photography, sculpture and installation focused on a familiar object, the shopping basket. He hopes “to instill a sense of dignity for the many people for whom shopping baskets have become an indispensable part of their lives.”
The centerpiece of Gillum’s installation is a full-size shopping basket covered with photographs. The cart is illuminated from within, giving the piece a bright, ethereal glow. It’s as if the ubiquitous but utilitarian cart has been given a starring role. Interesting stuff.
Gillum is joined by Lyssa Bird, whose “toss aside” exhibition of photos — some of them showing the large and ungainly pieces of heavy equipment that count as trash along with less substantial litter — is a nice complement to Gillum’s work.