Claire Colette Re-Enchants Geometric Abstraction at Johansson Projects


Claire Colette Re-Enchants Geometric Abstraction at Johansson Projects
(reprinted from East Bay Monthly, September 2017)

Geometric abstraction is usually considered to have originated in the United States in the 1960s, with innovative painters like Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Lawrence Poons, Ellsworth Kelly and others, whose ostensibly took the modernist painting to its logical conclusions. Perhaps the art-critic and prophet of that era’s formalist analysis, Clement Greenberg, was unaware of it, but geometric abstraction actually originated a half century before, in Europe—with Kasimir Malevich’s revolutionary Suprematism, and it was anything but an exercise in formalist pure visual aesthetics. Malevich was utopian without reservations or embarrassment, a Christian mystic from the Ukraine who found in the black square (a motif which adorns his grave) an icon for a new age; Mondrian, similarly, now known for his primary-colored stripes, was deeply influenced by Theosophy, the alternative religion of disaffected fin-de-siècle intellectuals.

 Claire Colette’s abstractions in Monument Eternal continue this lineage of spiritual abstraction. The show’s title is borrowed from Franya Berkman’s creative and spiritual biography of Alice Coltrane (the wife of John Coltrane in the 1960s), a brilliant musician and composer who fused gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, bebop, Hindu devotional hymns and European classical music, and, as Swamini Turiya Sangitananda, performed with other musicians pursuing “spiritual aesthetics.” Colette’s paintings depict the sacred architecture and the creation myths of various cultures, along with the astronomical phenomena studied throughout human history, but they’re filtered though a minimalist, modernist sensibility. Without titles like The End is the Beginning, or The First Hour of the World, or Adityas, referring to the offspring of Aditi, mother of the Hindu gods, one might not discern the spiritual dimension, still problematic for those raised on the outworn creed of dogmatic materialism yet capable of suspending considerable disbelief in art, fashion and politics. Monument Eternal runs through October 28. Reception Saturday, September 9, 3-5pm. Johansson Projects, 2300 Broadway at 23rd Street, Oakland; open Thursday through Saturday 1-5 and by appointment, (510) 444-9140; johanssonprojects.com. —DeWitt Cheng

 

Fall Picks 2017 (reprinted from Oakland and Alameda magazines, September 2017)

STATE OF THE ARTS

Garry Knox Bennett at Transmission Gallery, 770 West Grand Avenue, Oakland, www.thetransmissiongallery.com. Oakland’s master of witty and immaculately fabricated art furniture (including hippie-era Art Nouveau-ish roach clips) returns to the East Bay gallery scene, twelve years after his 2005 Oakland Museum show at the large lobby at 555 12th Street. Details on the show are sketchy at the moment, and might includes lights and lamps, but however things evolve, the show, which might include chairs, desks, clocks and tables, will be amazing, delightful, and a testament to old-school craftsmanship, freewheeling imagination and irrepressible humor. Bennett: “Some people call me an artist. It’s flattering, but I’m not. I have friends that are artists, but I’m a damn good furniture maker.” Reception Friday, December 1, 6-9pm. December 1 - January 20.


About Abstraction: Bay Area Women Painters at Bedford Gallery, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. www.bedfordgallery.org. The recent regressive turn in American politics points up the fact that the social progress many of us foolishly took for granted was never safe from attack. It’s no surprise, either, that women artists are still under-represented; some change has taken place since the 1970s, but too little, and too late. Still, shows like this one, focusing on local living artists who happen to be abstractionists—and women, Reg!—are valuable in keeping things moving forward. The seventeen painters are Lorene Anderson, Eva Bovenzi, Donna Brookman, Heather Day, Amy Ellingson, Linda Geary, Rebekah Goldstein, Danielle Lawrence, Naomie Kremer, Michelle Mansour, Alicia McCarthy, Mel Prest, Cornelia Schulz, Ema Sintamarian, Michele Theberge, and Canan Tolon. September 24 - December 17.


August Muth: Tactile Radiance at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, 480 23rd Street, Oakland, www.chandracerritocontemporary.com. Muth is a Santa-Fe-based artist who has been working with holograms, those three-dimensional projections (now familiar from Star Wars and other movies) for thirty years. He creates his own works (with a proprietary emulsion) as well as assisting other artists; the James Turrell holograms shown recently at Pace Gallery in Palo Alto are collaborations, I presume. Muth’s holograms convey not desperate appeals to Jedi knights, but geometric forms floating in color fields, hovering almost tangibly in the viewer’s space. Muth considers light to be a tactile medium, and these holograms are not illusions, but “photonic truth.... Through my work, I strive to record with precision the perceptible light-space-time phenomena.  As these three elements intertwine, a three-dimensional topography of pure light is formed, revealing a window into the elusive realms of the light-space-time paradox.  Luminous veils of light invite the viewer into a multi-dimensional journey.... Light is the faithful archivist of time.” First Friday reception, September 1, 6-8pm. August 4 - September 28.


Earth, Wind and Fire at Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Avenue, Richmond, www.richmondartcenter.org. Remember when postmodernist art theory declared nature dead a decade ago, and long live culture? It’s not worked out exactly as we in the fact-based universe would have hoped, but maybe the sullen kid at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg will take a hike.  This show, Earth, Wind, and Fire, explored the reality of our place in the natural world through the artifice of — art, made by the social landscape (for lack of a better term) painter Chester Arnold, the conceptual artist Paul Kos, the figurative glass sculptor Clifford Rainey, and the painter Abel Rodriguez, a member of Colombia’s Nonuya people, now in exile, who shares his intimate knowledge of the Amazon ecosystem entirely from memory: "I had never drawn before, I barely knew how to write, but I had a whole world in my mind asking me to picture the plants.” Reception Saturday, September 9, 5-7pm (probably). September 12 - November 18. —DeWitt Cheng

 

 

Chad Hasegawa: Wall Colorings @ Andrea Schwartz (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)


Chad Hasegawa
Andrea Schwartz Gallery, San Francisco, California  
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng  
Continuing through August 31, 2017

The San Francisco satirist Ambrose Bierce defined painting as “the art of protecting flat surface from the weather and exposing them to the critic.” San Franciscan Chad Hasegawa, known for his mural work, has created a body of abstract paintings on canvas that focuses on the issues of working outside (although, curiously, there is no mention of exposure to sidewalk critics): i.e., dealing with “wind, dust, and all angles of direct sunlight of all hours of the day.” Hasegawa aims for long-term survival “as if [the works] were outside in heavy conditions” — as well as for the immediate visual impact necessary for the street. 

These large latex (“bucket paint”) and acrylic works, with their geometric shapes, eccentric and sometimes complex, suggesting three dimensions; their taped edges; and their textured paint, are monumental, in accordance with the artist’s admiration for the abstract expressionists Franz Kline, Phillip Guston, Joan Mitchell and Robert Motherwell; yet they’re also personal, befitting their inspiration in the traditional quilts of the artist’s native Hawaii, where these handmade objects are regarded as serious artifacts (as some of us continue to regard paintings). Hasegawa’s palette derives from the “royalty colors” of Hawaiian kings and queens, as do his high-contrast graphic compositions, which derive not from the natural world, as do traditional quilts, but today’s cultural world, and personal associations. Four small paintings, “Kahuku,” “Waianae,” “Haleiwa” and “Kapo Lei,” aligned vertically, constitute a symbolic map of four districts of Honolulu. The large works from the "Lean On & Against" series exemplify Hasegawa’s aesthetic of harmony through contrast, of painterly intuition layered into dynamic equipoise.


Beth Fein. When Words Fail," at Transmission Gallery, Oakland (until Sept. 26)




Beth Fein: When Words Fail

Last year, Beth Fein—then a resident artist at Women’s Studio Workshop, in New York—created, during that particularly heated election season, “When Words Fail Me,” a mixed-media work composed of pyramids printed with typographical fragments that are mounted magnetically to a galvanized steel sheet; the pyramids suggest word fragments, but their message indecipherable and, since the pieces can be moved, random, indicative of the artist’s desire “not to make more words.” In a recent interview, Fein criticized the plethora of fake news and alternative facts in our current national discourse: “Words aren’t working.” At such times, art, including abstraction, can provide an alternative commentary. The artist’s work both as a dancer and creator of dances and as a multimedia artist working in prints, sculptures and installations investigates how movement and flow combine in art and life: in the real time and real space of dance; and in artworks dealing with impermanence and metamorphosis both thematically and, in the case of open-ended works with multiple configurations, literally. Fein embraces experimentation and chance: growing up in the New York, she absorbed the expansive ideas of 1960s avant-gardism: “I have this John Cage influence about chance and choice. It is a way of looking at our lives—responding to chance and making choices. It is a balancing act.”

Fein balances impulses that are inherently in conflict: a conceptual, abstract approach to subject matter and a curiosity about the possibilities of materials. Included in When Words Fail are sculptural installations and mixed-media sculptures from her Voices Project that ironically both subvert and assert the power of language.

The installation, “Around Again,” is composed of thirty-six circular eight-inch discs of paper, suspended and seemingly floating, mid-air, like water lilies. The discs are printed in color on both sides, from deep red or black lightening gradually to white, so they suggest (using a symbolic, non-naturalistic palette) the daily solar cycle as well as the monthly lunar cycle. In past performances, dancers moved between the discs, gently displacing them and causing them to oscillate gently before returning to a new equilibrium. “Betrayed,” from several years ago, featuring printed cones suggesting teeth or stalagmites, indicts the pursuit of money and power, carried, in the absence of moderating influences, to toxic or even self-destructive levels.

Two printed sculptures combine traditional woodblock and letterpress printing with modular compositional structures, reflecting the distortions of advertising, political slogans, and other forms of official persuasion.  Conjunctio means, in Latin, the marriage of opposites; in alchemical lore, it refers to the ‘marriages’ or conjunctions between cosmic pairs of opposites: the active, masculine, sulfurous principle symbolized by the sun, Sol, and its complement, the passive, feminine, mercurial principle symbolized by the moon, Luna; in psychology, it refers to psychic balance between the self and others, making possible “three dimensional relationships [devoid of ego illusions] in the real world.” Fein’s “Conjunctio (Marriage of Opposites)” is a set of eight-inch-square prints placed upright in a radial configuration on a semicircular wooden rack.  Six abstract images in black on white (woodblock) are placed back to back with their negative images in white on black (photopolymer letterpress). Alternating with these are seven woodblock prints of the words chance, change, choice, yang and yin; square cutout windows afford views of the abstract images, which suggest hieroglyphic symbols or pictorial road signage.  The pieces can be rotated into different orientations, and the sequence, too, can be altered, making this work a kind of philosophical game board.  Fein’s pendant wall piece, “Conjunctio II (Marriage of Opposites),” arranges sixteen eight-inch square woodblock prints, eight in black on white, eight in white on black, within a 4x4 grid that suggests, again, a game board, a tray of movable type, or a manuscript; the sequence of verbal units, or morphemes, can be altered, creating different implied ‘messages,’ Fein’s comment on the slippery meanings of contemporary Newspeak. (In 2016, Fein sent prints from a similar series to pairs of opposite personalities: to Michelle Obama and Roger Ailes, of Fox News; and to Pope Francis and Donald Trump.)

The large wooden wall relief accompanying these abstract images, “Speak Truth to Power,” echoes the words of activist Kerry Kennedy, addressing the Center for Justice and Accountability on various civil-rights abuses; and, further back in history, the mandate of eighteenth-century Quakers. Fein creates a kind of international monument or manuscript, laser-cutting the dictum, translated into twenty-four languages, into a stele-like panel honoring “those who have had the courage to speak out,” with the letters emerging from the matrix and fallen and scattered, below.

Words can fail, if we abuse rational discourse; but, imbued with meaning and urgency, they can also succeed. The same holds for images. In 1861, as the Civil War began, the landscapist Frederic E. Church painted “Our Banner in the Sky,” a small oil at San Francisco’s de Young Museum depicting a spectral Stars and Stripes waving from a bare tree, stripped of its foliage by shot and shell. The stripes merge with the red clouds of sunset; the stars dissolve into the deepening night sky.  Fein’s new version of the American flag, “Distressed,” is on white silk, with the edges unraveling, the stars replaced by printed eyes, and the red and blue leached from the flag, and fallen to the ground; the flag’s familiar pattern are printed upside-down, denoting (United States Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1) “dire distress ... [and] extreme danger to life or property.”—DeWitt Cheng






 

Trudy Myrrh Reagan retrospective at Peninsula Museum of Art

Trudy Myrrh Reagan
Physical/Metaphysical: Mixed Media Works

Science, the patterns found in nature, and sociopolitical commentary have been the abiding concerns to Palo Alto artist Gertrude Myrrh Reagan for fifty years. The Peninsula Museum of Art is proud to exhibit a small selection from her varied oeuvre. Reagan, who grew up as the daughter of a geologist, and married a physicist, shows that visual art can be a compelling and beautiful way to explore scientific phenomena from biology, geology, botany, anatomy, mathematics, physics, and even philosophy and metaphysics. She has been active in bringing together “the two cultures” of art and science, founding, in 1981, YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology, which served as a forum for the then developing field of computer graphics. Reagan is also a reader of sacred texts from both eastern and western cultures, and her artistic practice (which has a political component, represented in the show by a pair of satirical drawings) informed by Quaker and Buddhist teachings. Sadly, the breadth of Reagan’s career can be represented only with twenty-five paintings, drawings and sculptures, but her website (www.myrrh-art.com) is a rich resource for those interested in further pursuing the  connections between science and art.

Among the show’s treasures is a sizeable selection from Reagan’s Essential Mysteries series, developed over almost two decades (and available as digital prints); these abstract paintings in acrylic paint on large (45”-diameter) plexiglas discs zoom spectacularly from the microscopically small to the cosmically large, from subatomic particles to galaxies, affirming the aesthetic beauty of the laws of science, and warning us of the dangers of transgressing beyond natural limits.  “The World of Small and Large,” “Energy Becomes Matter,” “Life Creates,” “Intertwingled,” a portmanteau word combining intertwined and mingled,  and “Catastrophe” might almost sum up the human adventure on earth., not forgetting our cultural contributions, nicely intertwingled in “Brains Imagine,” a depiction of the brain’s convoluted twin lobes, composed of Michelangelo nudes—the universe inside our heads, externalized as art. 

Also shown are works from Reagan’s Patterns in Nature series, spanning more than three decades, exploring how physical laws generate aesthetically pleasing form in geological landscapes, in the veins of leaves or insect wings, and acoustically generated wave patterns; and exploring collage, batik, and even traditional realist landscape painting. — DeWitt Cheng