Cooley Landing – Linda Gass

Review by Michal Gavish

Bay Area multimedia artist Linda Gass was the first artist to participate in the new Creative Ecology artists residency program at the Cooley Landing in East Palo Alto. The program brings together art, science, open-space environment and educators.  In a series of photographs, Linda brings to the Palo Alto Art Center images of her temporary land-art installation at the South San Francisco Bay.

With the help of members of the community, she marks the original coastline of the landing with blue bands of synthetic material, defining a large area between it and the current coastline. The work delineates the expanded area that was formed in the mid- 20th century by the land-filling from the San Mateo waste dump.

Linda Gass 1 Michal Gavish

The long plastic bands stretch through the vegetation, forming an aesthetic abstract shape in the surrounding landscape. In her installation, Gass continues a long land art tradition, creating a contemporary synthesis between the artificial land enveloping of Christos’ islands and the natural landmarks that Goldsworthy arranges in his native landscape. The artist clarifies the temporary nature of the installation in a careful signage, which redirects our reaction to the foreign texture of the blue plastic in the middle of nature. As a result, instead a menacing message of pollution, the synthetic material blends with the environment and becomes part of the intended message, telling a story of a place that used to be a dump-site. Gass narrates her imagery with the happy ending of the shoreline landscape that was recently restored via land capping efforts into a renewed fresh soil with a reborn eco system of lush plants and a striving bird and fish populations.

Linda Gass 2 Michal Gavish

But Gass does not let her audience enjoy the small victory of nature. Instead, she issues an ecological warning in her series of stitched silk paintings, describing how the Cooley Land is soon to disappear again under the predicted rise in sea level. Placing these fabric paintings besides her photographs of the community celebrating an environmental victory, Gass warns us on the larger ecological hazards that are threatening this strip of revitalized land. The soothing home quilting harmonies of the cyan works give the misleading sense of paradisiacal calmness and  the mistaken sense of safety of a home, only to discover that they describe the devastating stages of the future disappearance of the land and its vegetation.

Linda Gass 3 Michal Gavish

Linda Gass’s exhibition at the Palo Alto Art Center raises an important aspect of art activism that adds to the work its multidisciplinary significance. The show summarizes her recent residency at the Center where she devised a hands-on demonstration to the community of the fragile nature of the San Francisco Bay. Along with the apparent pleasure of silk painting practice, Gass is devoted to environmental cause and harnesses her work to the message of the sometime forgotten dangers to our surroundings.

Linda Gass 5 Michal Gavish


Cooley Landing is now on view at the Palo Alto Art Center till January 22, 2016.  The exhibition is part of Creative Ecology, a new artists-in-residence program. It is a collaboration between the Palo Alto Art Center and the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo.

Palo Alto Art Center
1313 Newell Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303


Haptic Render – The Work of Francesco Igory Deiana

Francesco Deiana is an Italian artist, living and working in San Francisco for many years. His new work at Aimee Friberg’s CULT gallery is all about contradictions. Deiana designs large scale shapes relating to historical works ranging from Franz Kline’s gestural works to the geometries of Stella and Tuttle. Carefully covering them with graphite marks, he creates trompe-l’œil imagery of interference patterns, which he transfers from his computer screen.  Recently I had the opportunity to speak to him about his work.

MG:  Your graphite drawings are intriguing. Please talk about the idea behind your process:

FD:  I find really interesting the process of translation between the digital and analog images, which was always part of my work. I like the idea of confusing the eye, not knowing if my work was done by hand or by computer. I took this idea to the limit in this show basically as I combined computer images with graphite drawings.

Michal Gavish Dieana 3ps s

MG:  The Haptic Series is the main part of your current show, can you describe how you make it:

FD:  For these works I design most of the outlines in my sketchbook first.  Then I reproduce them in large scale, outlining the shapes and filling in the black areas on a table. Step two is to hang the piece on a wall to give me the possibility to step back for proportions. I draw the wave patterns in it, copying it from the distortion created on my photographs shot through my computer screen. Step three is to put back the piece on a table and cross the whole thing with lines done with ruler and pencil to give you the idea of something machine made (computer or copy machine) and also to give a heavy texture to the drawing. The entire work is done with graphite. I love  the fact that you can see my hand-work in them. Looking at these waves, your imagination can go through it. As a viewer, you wonder right away how is it done. You can also imagine these waves looking like fabric surfaces or sonar waves.

MG:  Another impressive work is your large Photoshop Brushstroke, 2015. Could you describe the process here:

FD:  I started here by drawing a shape with my finger in one continuous movement using Photoshop. It’s a gesture digitally done and reproduced by hand with a body move instead using a finger because the scale of it; but it’s a gesture in the same way. The entire piece is filled up using pencils/ graphite sticks. The graphite looked layered on the gesso surface, showing the overlap of the shapes in the big work. It was the idea of gestural work in Photoshop that was interesting to me, and reproducing it on a large scale was such a time consuming work with an intense result.

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MG:  You also exhibit a site-specific sculptural installation, could you talk about it:

FD:  My sculpture began with a projected shape on a found object, which I painted and coated with graphite. The piece is closed in a room and you can only look at it from the entrance. That way it will limit the points of view you can see it from and give more space to your imagination.  I painted the room and sculpture all gray as it is in the computer programs for 3D renders. I wanted it to be read as a three dimensional sketch of my two dimensional work for a potential sculpture; to be then reproduced in steel and in a bigger scale.

Michal Gavish Dieana ps4

MG:  How do you decide on the overall shapes of your drawings and who has influenced your work:

FD:  My shapes are an evolution of my designs. Every shape is different, sometimes they are related to architecture. As I said I see many of my drawings as the models for potential sculptures. I envision them as huge metal cuts. The influence from architecture has to do with the fact that I am Italian and where I grew up. I think my work is really strong, almost invasive for your eyes in a way. It’s aggressive and kind of extreme but there are also soft and delicate parts in it.  It almost feels like a contradiction. For example, the wave- shapes looks almost like fabric while, on the other hand, the shape that encloses them is solid and heavy. I started to make this series of works last year after I visited Rome where I helped a friend with his show. We were surrounded with good art and artists from the 1960s to the 1980’s .  I had access to a lot of inspiring art and people. Artists like Mario Schifano, Lucio Fontana, Sol Lewitt,  Joan Jones, Pat Steir… Their work was really inspiring.

Michal Gavish Diena ps1

MG: You process seems to be about the risk. You are taking the work physically to the edge where it can be ruined just by any small error you make.

FD:  It is true, my process reflects a lot of who I am. At the beginning of my career when I was doing a lot of shading  with ballpoint pens,  my rule was not to make any visible mistakes for my eyes at a distance of like  one inch from the paper. This way the work would almost look dimensional/ mechanical from faraway, almost computer made. Still, even as my work can look very precise it’s full of imperfections, miscalculations and sometimes very off results.  In reality I don’t calculate much, I just draw all my shapes, overlapping my rulers for sizes and using a cord and nails to do the circle parts.  I am trying to get better at calculating what is happening with my pieces but they are pretty freely made.

Interview by Michal Gavish

Haptic Render
Solo Exhibition:  Francesco Igory Deiana

CULT: Aimee Friberg Exhibitions
3191 Mission Street San Francisco 94110
Gallery hours: Wednesday – Saturday 12 – 6pm

On Light and Matter

Two of the new summer exhibitions at the Institute for Contemporary Art in San Jose (ICA) are projection installations, Red Rooms by Amy M. Ho and Naomie Kremer’s projections on canvases from her exhibition Age of Entanglement. The two examine the viewer’s perception and reaction to imagery and color as they shift from still into time-based work and from matter to light.

Red Room by Amy ho

Red Room by Amy M. Ho

Red Rooms, by San Francisco Bay Area photographer Amy M. Ho is a two-channel video. Projected on two opposite gallery walls, the image envelops the viewer within the projected work. Ho uses her video to create a crimson architectural interior from a miniature model that she photographed from two complementary angles, creating effects of light and shade. While the work extends the gallery cube space into a realistic room with a window or a door, the projected warm red colors are sensual, creating an emotional awareness of the space. Ho writes that her “work strives to make us actually feel the world around us”.

Ho intends for her audience to take the time observing the work. Surrounded by warm red color, the viewer’s perception of the work shifts from the original intension of the hyper-realistic 3D architectural interior into seeing it as flat abstract geometries. Ho achieves this transformation by choosing projected video as her medium. Instead of a photographic print, the luminous display is a virtual time-base image. Through this medium, Ho relates not only to perceptions and emotions, but connects the work to art history. In her monochromatic approach, she relates her work to earlier Minimalist investigation of color and light by artists like Joseph Albers and Robert Irwin. The power of the work is in the tension of contradiction between the referred material model, in which the colors are created by material paint and the ephemeral nature of the light that Ho produces.

Red Room by Amy Ho

Red Room by Amy M. Ho

In a series of works on the opposite gallery space, Naomie Kremer, a veteran Bay Area painter, demonstrates an actual media mixing, as she projects videos onto her painted canvases. Kremer, who has been using video as part of her practice since 2000, is adding a time-based component to her work. In Walkabout, a Lyrical-Abstract piece, Kremer constructs an imaginary landscape from her medium sized gestural strokes that have become her recognized mark. She builds up a scene of imaginary inclines that funnel steeply towards the viewers reminiscent of abstract expressionists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Walkabout by Naomi Kramer

Walkabout by Naomie Kremer

Chance Operations is another layered painting in which Kremer paints a hand written text on top of an abstract composition of her bluish expressive strokes. Here too, a video projected on the painting adds to the work a layer of light, which blinks across the surface and the script letters. This projection becomes narrative for a moment when the silhouette of the artist painting the work appears in the video.

Kremer changes her viewer’s perception of her painting. She creates tension in her work by projecting her video directly onto the oil paint. As the video hits the surface, the image on the canvas appears glowing. The viewer’s eye attempts to decipher the video from the painting, the virtual from the material. This dichotomy of the moving light image and the still matter on the same substrate creates dynamics on the painting surface. The mostly non-narrative nature of her projection does not control the viewer attention but allows for a view that is free and unstructured. Kremer gives new stratum to her familiar style as the viewer is entangled between the time-based progression and the still oil painting underneath. She does not just add a layer of light to her work but also makes it non-material and virtual.

Chance Operations by Naomi Kramer

Chance Operations by Naomie Kremer

The new projections at the ICA exhibition capture attention in the seductive luminosity of Ho and Kremer’s works. Unlike other video works, here the time progression is not important. The two artists display their videos in relation to the material images that they originate from. Their strength is in the connection between the virtual and the material. Shifting in perception between light and matter is bewildering and at the same time makes us ponder about their nature and temporality. Through their contemplative approach, the two artists extract the ephemeral. Ho intends for an emotional reaction in her monochromatic reds while it is also associated with geometrical color-field theory and minimalism. Kremer’s work connects to both expressionism and lyrical abstraction. Rendering her gestural work with light and movement, she creates a direct connection between the two media in same space.

On Light and Matter

Media Installations by Amy M. Ho and Naomie Kremer
at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art

Reviewed by Michal Gavish

exhibitions are on view through September 12, 2015

Theodora Varnay Jones and Penny Olson at Stanford Art Spaces

In a new exhibition at Stanford University, Bay area painter Theodora Varnay Jones and photographer Penny Olson are transforming hi-tech objects into art. Connecting their existing practices to artistic explorations of science and technology, the two artists collected computer chips at the Nanofabrication Facility in the Paul G. Allen building. Stanford Art Spaces curator, DeWitt Cheng, installed their artworks on the outer walls of the facility in which they were fabricated, endowing the technological inventions with new formalities.

01 Michal Gavish Theo Varney Jones

Varnay Jones encases her set of chips in layers of small round drawings and paintings based on their gridded surfaces. Partially obscured, each chip resembles a jewel, set in elegant precision at the circular center. The chips retain their technological qualities as they are distilled to ephemeral abstraction. Varnay Jones arranges these round encasements behind etched Plexiglas in horizontal pairs, creating a continuous showcase of round-framed geometric objects. Viewing this leveled progression of flat-sheathed chips becomes an excavation process. The multiple patterned circles add up to intriguing sequences of undecipherable codes, referencing their art-historical connection to mathematical origins of Constructivist language.

02 Michal Gavish Penny Olson

Penny Olson takes pictures of the same computer chips. Her photographs are illusive, appearing like three-dimensional holograms of multilayered grids floating in an unresolved phase. Speaking about her process, Olson explains that she digitally “condenses” the high-resolution photographs until the image of the chip converges into a blurred impression of stacked geometrical grids. These structures return to early influences on Olson’s work such as ancient weaving while the magical spaces that she creates in her soft edged lines, bring to mind modernist influences of Gerhard Richter and contemporary photographers like Michal Rovner.

03 Michal Gavish early stm at stanfrod

Next to these new works of the two artists, Cheng installed their older works, creating small personal retrospectives of their technologically–related practices. Layered panels by Varnay Jones survey her invented coded language of circular signs. These works narrate the timeline of her practice of creating mathematically based abstractions of intermediate dimensionality between volume and flatness. Next to the new and updated Nanofabrication Facility, Olson’s works from the late 1980’s give homage to older technologies such as manual image manipulation with photocopies. These photos set a preface for her interest in technological forms. Together, these old works create a continuation and establish a progression timeline of the works of the two artists.

04 Michal GavishTheo VJ clay on paper

The exhibition continues at the adjacent Packard building, where current works by the two artists are shown among permanent displays of the first electron microscopes and early computer chips that were developed at Stanford since the 1950s. Like the electron microscope designed to investigate our visual field, the works are series of visual artistic experiments. Such is a series of dry clay reliefs that Varnay Jones exhibits next to the early prototypes of electron microscopy. Next to the old scientific instruments, the works seem to be arranged like experimental sampling of microscopic images, where each panel becomes an abstract composition of natural cracking patterns. The visual exploration evolves in parallel in a series of elongated color photographs by Olson. Her panoramic phone-camera prints create colorful formal conversations questioning the integrity of the photographic visual field. In this scientific environment the art works become sets or scientific data, that draws the viewer to survey and examine them. Retaining their original freshness as visual exercises, these series connect the artistic and scientific processes of visual exploration.

05 Michal Gavish Penny Olson photograh

The strength of the show is in its site-specific installation at the historic Stanford engineering buildings, although the spreading of the exhibit over such a large area is sometime hard to follow. Still, the focus on the particular presentation of art related to chip technology in the actual building where it was invented and is now is now fabricated makes it compelling. The entire show is complex, apposing contemporary art and science to historical displays, connecting the art to grand moments in science. These connections are established precisely and modestly through the consistent pursuit of Varney Jones and Olson, giving new meaning and abstracted formality to the scientific results. In a wider context, located at the center of Silicon Valley, this show marvels in technology and celebrates in unironic freshness the creative scientific momentum diffusing into art.


Theodora Varnay Jones and Penny Olson
at Stanford Art Spaces
Paul G. Allen and Packard Buildings, Stanford University

Curator: DeWitt Cheng
Reviewed by Michal Gavish

The exhibition is on view until May 2nd 2015

TRANSFLUX at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – review by Michal Gavish

TRANSFLUX at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts,
Gene A. Felice II, Nathaniel Ober, and Eve Warnock; curator: Katya Min.
Review By Michal Gavish

TRANSFLUX is a multi-media interactive exhibition at the San Francisco Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, YBCA, curated by Katya Min. Gene A. Felice II, Nathaniel Ober and Eve Warnock. It turns the Front-Door Gallery into an interactive demonstration of natural systems. Each work uses technology to present an interactive model of a basic natural cycle, from the intimate repetition of our heartbeats, to larger environmental cycles, and to the perpetual revolution of the solar systems.

Michal Gavish_transflux

Eve Warnock and her life-partner Pelham Johnston created VESSEL, an interactive  circulatory mechanism that follows the audience’s heart beat. The biometric information is transmitted to a hydraulic pump, releasing water through transparent surgical tubes. The viewers can then visually follow the resonance of their own heartbeats through the water path listen as it drops with a sound onto a hand-made steel drum. The viewers try to influence the rhythm of the mechanical installation by controlling their pulse, becoming aware of its connection to their emotional state.

Warnock described the piece as romantic, saying that it uses mechanical language to reflect on the heart. She describes the piece as aiming for beauty through structure that enwraps the audience as they listen to the echo of their own heartbeat. She associates the sound of water hitting the metal drum is ritualistic and associates with the idea of an ancient container or watering hole as a gathering mark for animals and life. The artist feels that the perpetual pulsating circulation is romantic. The mechanical expression of our heartbeat is exciting and magical and also humbling and speaks of love.

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COACTIVE SYSTEMS is a collaborative project from Coaction Lab, where Gene A. Felice II in collaboration with David Kant, Tina Matthews and Nathan Ober display an independent environmental demo-system that uses plankton-based biosensors to monitor carbon dioxide and particulates in the ambient air. The installation is intended as a bimodal experience where the viewer is invited to trigger atmospheric changes or to observe it passively.

Felice explains that this interdisciplinary work uses scientific vocabulary as the basis for a conceptual art project touching on concepts such as bio- and ecological art. The contribution of the artistic perspective here is that not being constrained by the need to produce any concrete scientific results or conclusions, the artists felt daring and displayed an installation meant to trigger the viewer to contemplate on the connections between bio-art and the environment.

The ORRERY HARP is inspired by recent NASA projects in which sound waves were applied to measuring universal distances. Nathan Ober built on the idea of hearing the universe through scientific measurements. The Orrery is an antiquated mechanical device, invented during the age of enlightenment to demonstrate the motion of our solar system. In his piece, Ober transforms the device from visual to sonic space, demonstrating the solar revolutions through sound. His harp is an autonomous wooden stringed instrument, which is activated electronically to produce autonomous sounds related to the rhythm of the solar revolutions.

Ober made the entire wooden harp by hand, from the sound box to the electronic circuits. He taught himself to laser-cut wood and built the sound box while basing the mechanism on old musical instruments that he brought from India and Sri Lanka. In our conversation, Ober says that the choice of a technology-based project facilitates reaching to the audience by clarifying the artist’s unique perception of reality in concrete terms. He explains that the connection between art and science has existed in Ancient Greek culture and through the Renaissance and this project tries to rejoin these two areas that were only recently separated.

Michal Gavish Trunsflux 3

The TRANSFLUX exhibition at YBCA is an interactive search for our abilities to influence natural mechanisms. The momentary influence of the viewers on their own heart rate or on the particulate level in the room, suggest contemplating on personal or environmental changes. These changes are impossible for the larger solar systems, which are beyond out control. The three installations use these scientific contemplations as a conceptual basis for making art and technology as their mode of production. Yet, while they may all be classified under these categories, their artistic approach is very different. A closer examination reveals three completely different modes of practice. Those range from the bare conceptual COACTIVE SYSTEMS, to the artistic rendering of biological systems in VESSELS and to the ORRERY HARP, which transforms the scientific concept into an artistic space.

The exhibition is at

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Through April 12 2015.



(Im)materiel – Winter Group Exhibition

(Im)materiel – Winter Group Exhibition
Headlands Center for the Arts
Review by Michal Gavish

The new winter group exhibition at The Headlands presents an exploration of ambivalence. The show, titled (Im)materiel, showcases 18 California artists realizing these intangibles in sculptures, stills and videos. Guest curator Kevin B. Chen selected art works that survey the ambivalent borderlines between the known and the unknown, the tangible and the intangible, the terrestrial and the extramundane. The works relate to a wide range of subjects, from the nature of basic materials to object and landscape and to abstract concepts like documentation, ritual and memory.

Michal Gavish Elizabeth Moran txt


The show begins with the investigation of material itself. Caroline Hayes Charouk uses her sculptures to investigate our perception of materials’ qualities. She creates large soft objects of magnified geological geometries, changing their meaning as they lose their original qualities of hardness and heaviness.

Other artists re-contextualize mundane materials and transform them into new states at the moment of exhibition. Jennifer Brandon throws plastic bags into the air and photographs them as they parachute down. At the moment of flight, she lends the bags a temporary existence apart from their everyday functionality.

Randy Colosky uses construction materials in his work. Referring to his past as a fabricator and building designer, he employs formal geometric and mathematical language to transform a set of steel pipes into visual poetics. Welded on their long sides, the openings create a new curved surface of abstracted circular units.

Chris Thorson makes everyday objects such as Trompe-l’œil fruits from paper-mache. He displays these in found cardboard grocery boxes, bringing together the hand-made and found object. This in-between genre repeats in the carefully crafted silk boxing glove that Thorson displays as a found (or lost) object on the gallery windowsill.

Chris Thorson Michal Gavish txt


Victoria May also creates her-own objects from scratch. Relating to their ambiguous functionality, she builds on the gallery wall a fictional utility system from steel boxes connected by geometrically laid canvas cords. By constructing this pseudo-utilitarian system from old soft-looking materials, she exposes their frailty and diverts their functional authority, transforming them into an abstract composition.

 Another group of artists investigates the conceptual borderline between documentation and fiction.

Michal Wisniowski creates a site-specific installation in which he displays a photo booth reminiscent of 1980s communist Poland, where he was born. He documents the era by carefully recreating a period room, which he turns into a nostalgic zone by inviting the audience to wear period cloths and photograph themselves with a vintage Polaroid camera.

Tressa Pack, meanwhile, touches on the equivocal edge of documentation in her landscape photography. Her images contain a dichotomy of photographic witnessing of remote locations and fictional narratives that she creates by capturing scenes under partially illuminated or foggy conditions. These in-between temporary states allude to her interfering presence as a photographer while denoting the presence of an absent subject.

Michal Gavish Michal Wisniowski txt


Ritual is also investigated in the show, relating to ancient circular sites that shift our perception of materials and places. In her small installation, Allison Wiese transforms a set of wooden doorsteps into a ritualistic circle. This geometric accumulation changes small, unnoticed objects into a personal rite, reminiscent of the nature-based work of Richard Long.

In a very different way, Bridget Batch creates her own ritual as she marks a small water area on the Owens Lake in the Sierra Nevada by a green glow etched into the air. This limited body of water was what remained of the lake after it water had been diverted to the Los Angeles aqueduct. In her performance, Batch creates a momentary mark. Captured by video, this transient effect turns magical cosmology into an environmental warning.

The most dramatic borderline are the ones connected to memory and memorials, concentrating on our relationship to that which is absent. Mayumi Hamanaka’s manipulates photographs relate to collective memory. She bases her Invisible Land series on family photos found in Japanese towns after the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami. She cuts the damaged parts out of these photographs. In their place she constructs layered topographies from white paper, alluding to the presence of lost lives and memories.

Marshall Elliott creates an activated memorial, referring to roadside memorials for dead bikers. Elliott builds a mechanized installation of a perpetually circling rider-less bike. The empty white bike evokes the memory of the rider who is now missing. In another installation Elliot creates a three- dimensional momentum mori. He places a set of wooden chairs lying flipped on the floor and scatters saw dust on the floor next to them in the shape of their shadows. The grinded wooden remains evoke the absence of a light source, relating to the borderline between light and matter while connecting it to the biblical cycle of dust into dust and the line between life and death.

marshall Elliot txt


This comprehensive exhibition surveys many aspects of the intangible borderline between definite states and definitions. Its strength is in the fact that while being rooted in concrete ideas, the art works stand out in their visual strength. The consistency of the simultaneous high quality of both aspects makes it hard to define the exact genre of this exhibition. This adds another layer of collective ambiguity and places the entire group display at the intangible borderline between genres.

Headlands Center for the Arts
944 Simmonds Road, Sausalito, CA  94965
Until February 22nd 2015.

Follow Michal Gavish at twitter @Michal_Gavish

Place – The Art of Carolyn Meyer

CM2014Converts are the most fervent believers. It is true for religion, but it also true for transplants. Carolyn Meyer grew up in Yuma, Arizona.  However, the desert was not her place. Her place was metropolitan and it was surrounded by water.  Her paintings are about her love of adopted places: San Francisco and New York City.   I recently visited Carolyn in her Sausalito studio overlooking San Francisco and the Bay.  We talked at length about what she paints, how she paints and why she paints.

I asked Carolyn which was more important: subject or process. She thought for a moment and answered Ess Eff Upp“both”.  She paints what she loves. However, the process of laying down thick impasto is not simply playing with color relationships nor is it simply studies in light and shadow. It is those things, but more importantly it is classically expressionistic. Within the framework of constrained subject matter, she uses the paint as a way of directly and subconsciously exploring her feelings about the subject.

You can see in Meyer’s work a broad range of influences.  The influence of the Abstract Expressionists is clear in her physical use of paint to convey emotion non-verbally through color, texture and form. She also mentioned how important the Bay Area Figurative Boz Skaggs, Sunglasses and Other Frostings 2artists were as early influences. I see, in many of her paintings, the footprint of Wayne Thiebaud. There is in some of the San Francisco works, particularly, a similar use of complex perspective. The streets look almost flattened, but they are really a combination of multiple perspectives in a single painting.  This combination of perspectives is seen in many of her works.

The Abstract Expressionists felt that emotion could be conveyed directly without the crutch of subject matter. Painters in the Bay Area like David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud and Manuel Neri, Nocturne of Long Walks and Old Songs 2among others, pulled back from that purism. They incorporated the emotional power of the medium itself into their paintings; but, they also used specific subjects as a scaffolding within which to explore those emotions. The subject matter was not a crutch. Both medium and subject shared equal billing. This is the legacy that Carolyn Meyer continues to explore. And, like those artists, what makes her work powerful is the very personal nature of that exploration.

Carolyn keeps certain paintings as touch points in her journey. She said that she feels, at times, that she almost has almost been able to articulate what she wants to say in her paintings. Race to NYC 2Close but no cigar. She likes having the physical references to these “almost successes”in her studio, almost like documentation of the different paths. There is a voice that wants to heard. And, it is the search for perfect pitch that keeps her painting.

Her current exhibition at ArtHaus, “San Francisco – New York (Non Stop)”, is a perfect opportunity to see her continuing exploration of the importance of place.

411 Brannon St.
San Francisco CA

Exhibition:  January 8 – March 28, 2015

Opening Reception:  January 8th, 6-8 pm

Cristina Velázquez : Repurposed Black-Endless

Interview with Michal Gavish

Christina Velázquez is a Mexican-born multimedia artist from East Palo Alto. Her installations investigate women’s experiences and have been exhibited across the Bay Area.  For her new project, Velázquez knits long shawls from VHS tape. Earlier versions of her knits have been displayed at San Francisco’s Meridian gallery in 2013 and at San Jose’s Arc Art in 2014.  Velázquez recently spent a month in residency at the Palo Alto Art Center, during which she invited the local community to help her knit. The resulting long shiny black shawl was installed in November 2014 at the Palo Alto Art Center.

I spoke to Velázquez recently and a transcript of our conversation is below. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Gavish: Conceptually, what motivated you to work with VHS tape?

Velázquez: This project of knitting obsolete VHS films is connected to women’s issues and to recycling. The work is about women as part of the community. Through the knitting I wanted to address how, as women we work together to make handwork. While women crochet and knit, important issues transpire from their dialogs. I wanted this project to engage the knitters in conversation about recycling and to become part of a continuation of that dialog. The concept for my work came about when I encountered at the Museum of Quilts in San Jose a knitted piece made of cassette music tapes. That gave me the idea of reprocessing material by knitting.

I was thinking about the black shawls that old women wear in the villages of Mexico. These women were older and the knitted shawls were characteristic of their generation. They covered their heads and reminded me of the Virgin Mary. I wanted to make such shawls from VHS films, which used to be so shiny. I wanted to marry in my work the two ideas of the old women and the old VHS films, both at the end of their lives, on their way to the landfill, close to their death.

Michal Gavish CV1

Gavish: How did you learn about knitting film? How is it different from other materials?

Velázquez: I had a lot of VHS film in my studio, and I decided to learn how to knit it. I started to learn at the Palo Alto Library where the community members were invited to be part of a knitting circle. For six months we knitted scarves and, as soon as I completed my second scarf, I realized that I was ready to make my oversized scarf from VHS films. These films, which were not intended originally for knitting, became like a lot of my art materials that I push and pull, wanting to get them to behave completely differently from what they were intended for. This process of forcing materials is sometime painful and hurts me physically but I really push these objects to obtain their new application.

Michal Gavish CV2

Gavish: What was the process in which you have worked with the Palo Alto art center collecting the material, organizing the community knitting and finalizing the installation?

Velázquez: The residency started when the Palo Alto Art Center sent out a call to the community, asking for donations of used and unwanted VHS tapes. Within hours they received hundreds of old VHS films from residents.

The next step was for me to sit and knit a long shawl from these films in the glass gallery and to invite people to join me in the work. My expectations were to create a large shawl that would take up the entire gallery space and to have a lot of people helping with growing the piece quickly. The process turned out to be slower and the piece did not really materialize to the full size that I had envisioned. Still, we had some amazing people with great stories that they shared about their background. Some of them were even professional knitters.

Lisa Ellsworth, the Palo Alt Art Center curator, did the installation itself. She hung the large piece using plastic filaments and her vision and perspective were very important for me. The only visual points that I had were to have a very large organic shaped oversized drape and to be able to project its shadows on the walls. Those were my only take.


Gavish: What are your plans for the future? How do you intend to continue your knitting project?

Velázquez: My Palo Alto Art Center residency was an important step for my project because in that space my work finally became a complete installation. Beforehand, I made just one or two smaller pieces.  Now it was a large installation that was taking up the exhibition space. For the future, I have in mind a couple of places to apply to continue my project. I plan to work in different galleries and knit more of my films with audience participation. I do hope for it to go on as a community project, where I engage the public in conversations about recycling and about issues connected to women.

On View at the Palo Alto Art Center

1313 Newel Street, Palo Alto


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Wanxin Zhang: Artist Whistling

Wanxin Banner.2013 artist at his studio in San Francisco.

In 1976, for a young, aspiring artist from Northern China, a crack appeared in everything and the light began to seep in.  During the previous decade, the Cultural Revolution had imposed a communist orthodox hegemony.  Mao had called on Chinese youth to purge “impure” elements from society and revive the revolutionary spirit. Not only was access to Western culture blocked, so was access to thousands of years of Chinese culture.  It did not bode well for artistic freedom of expression.   Then, Mao Zedong died.  And, with his death, most of the final vestiges of the Cultural Revolution were discarded.

This was the political backdrop of Wanxin Zhang’s student days at Lu Xun Academy of Art.  Possibilities for freedom of artistic expression were2000, Made in China,Fired clay with pigment 12x14x42'' essentially non-existent just before he started his studies. Then, the rigid control began to crack.  Catalogs from contemporary Western exhibitions began to circulate at Lu Xun.  The light of possibilities began to brighten.  In 1985, Robert Rauschenberg had an exhibit in China.  Abstract expressionism had arrived.  And, around the same time, Wanxin made a field trip with his school to the burial tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang which had opened at Xiàn where 7500 terra cotta warriors and horses had been unearthed from four excavation pits. He made endless drawings.  Two of the three key elements of vocabulary that would inform Wanxin’s art over the next 30 years were now in place.  The terra cotta warriors provided the ostensible subject matter of his signature series of work:  Pit # 5; and, abstract expressionism gave him the freedom to use the subject improvisationally to explore a broad range of cross-cultural  observations.

Zhang_Warrior with Color Face-2009_Press
In 1992, after establishing himself as a successful artist in China, Wanxin got the opportunity to study in the MFA program at Academy of Art in San Francisco.  Here the third element of vocabulary would fall into place.  After completing his studies at Lu Xun, Wanxin started working in metal sculpture.  However, in San Francisco, he had the opportunity to revisit his roots in clay.  He was able to work briefly at the Foundry in Berkeley as an artist assistant to Peter Voulkous and he became acquainted with the work of Robert Arnesan.  Both of these artists would greatly influence his subsequent work:  the use of heavy slabs of clay, Voulkous; and the use of humor, Arnesan.

I recently interviewed Wanxin about his upcoming exhibition at Catharine Clark Gallery, Totem, and about his journey from his early student days in China to his homeZhang_Boxer-2014_Press here in San Francisco. We talked about the defining events of our youth – for me the turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War in the late 60’s and early 70’s; for him, the collapse of the Cultural Revolution in the 70’s and the gradual opening of a window on the West.   We also talked about cultural assumptions.  We are all victims of propaganda.  In Wanxin’s case, the propaganda in China during the Cultural Revolution was overt and ideas were rigidly controlled.  In my case, growing up in New England, it was more subtle.  I went to Japan in my early 20’s, and it soon became apparent to me that the things we “know” to be universally true are not.  Many of the underlying assumptions that form our world view are culturally specific, not universal.  In Wanxin’s journey to the United States, the culture shock was much more extreme.  He started to question everything – something he continues to do with his art even now.

Zhang_Special Ambassador-2011_PressWanxin noted that his work is about questions, not answers.  In his signature series:  Pit # 5, the terra cotta warriors are a surrogate for the Chinese subordination of the individual to the needs of society as whole.  The addition of humorous, anachronistic elements to his versions of the warriors allows him to comment on society.  One might make the assumption that he is criticizing the historical lack of individual freedom in China and lauding the individual freedom here in America.  That would be a mistake.  He noted in an earlier interview with Richard Whittaker in 2012:  “Yes, there is great freedom here.  The artist can do anything.  The question is what?”.  I imagine that there was a twinkle in his eye when he said that.  Humor draws you into his work.  It is easy access.  Then, gradually it becomes disconcerting and it makes you question what you know.

The current exhibition at Catharine Clark Gallery gives you a look at a broad range of Wanxin’s work.  It is not just a continuation of the Pit #5 series.  One gets a real sense of the importance of medium.  I asked Wanxin about what drew himZhang_Melting Landscape-2009-13_Press back to clay.  It is the physicality of the medium.  There is a direct, physical connection between the artist and the art.  Emotions are directly transferred through the hands of the artist into the clay. If you could run your hands over the surface of one of his sculptures, the electricity would be palpable.

The exhibition itself is stunning.  Catharine Clark has laid out her spacious gallery sparely.  The lighting is beautiful.  The works have room to breathe.  I will focus here on just two of the works.

Zhang_Pink Warrior-2013_Press“Pink Warrior” is displayed together with some of Wanxin’s “Bricks”.  It is an interesting juxtaposition by the gallerist.  The bricks are strewn behind the pink figure.  Each has a story of its own.  Some are broken pieces of the Great Wall.  Some are pieces of the wall with western graffiti.  There is a price tag that comes with freedom.  It is not all good.  And, then there is the warrior, himself.  The emotion is raw; the coloring incongruous.  The calligraphy is deeply personal.  Wanxin’s mother-in-law is a poet.  When Wanxin first arrived in America and was struggling, he began to question whether he should be pursing art at all.  Her poem reminds him how strong his voice his and how important his art is as a medium for that voice to be heard.  It was a poem that allowed him to continue as an artist.

“Spring Whistling” is perhaps my favorite work in the exhibition.  It has the basic elements that we have come to expect in Wanxin’s work:  the traditional Chinese figure with its anachronistic Western sunglasses.  Humorously, the crotch of the figure bulges inappropriately.  It isZhang_Spring Whistling-2014_Press a reference to a Chinese joke about what goes on under a monk’s robes. Then, there are also decals of traditional Chinese landscape and poetry that have been added to that surface in a third firing. And, the surface treatment of the sculpture itself is compelling on a purely abstract level.  The raw, emotional treatment of the clay is undisguised.  The work is not just about one thing.  It does not have a single point of view.  It is serious.  It is humorous.  It is anti-establishment.  It celebrates cultural legacy.  It is figurative.  It is abstact. It is, for me, the best of what Wanxin has to offer.

Totem will be on display at through January 3rd, 2015.  The opening reception is on Saturday, November 8th from 4-6pm.

Catherine Clark Gallery

248 Utah St.

San Francisco CA 94103

All exhibition photographs are courtesy of the gallery.  Thanks to Leonard Cohen for the cracks allowing the light in.

“Subsurface Continuum ” – William Swanson

William Swanson/ “Subsurface Continuum ” at Eleanor Harwood Gallery

review by Michal Gavish

Subsurface Continuum is an exhibition of new works by the San Francisco-based painter William Swanson at Eleanor Harwood Gallery. His new works of abstracted landscapes seem vast although he is painting them on small to medium size canvases.  Using economical marks, he conveys images of extended terrains interrupted by urban elements. Swanson layers his seamless painted areas and covers his surfaces with perfectly smooth monochromes. In some cases he extends his technique to reveal his brushstroke patterns, creating color gradients and softening their edges.  In the new series Swanson builds his compositions from sharp edged shapes of color, outlining specific landscapes of golden forest silhouettes, dramatic slopes or steep hills. He leaves much of his surfaces unpainted, turning them into foggy and flooded scenes. He then encloses these natural views by architectural geometries, interrupting their organic continuity. Michal Gavish Eleanor Harwood 1

His clean style gives an impression of coded landscape design where he assigns a color to each element, mapping events of architectural expansions over natural lands. But although his work is so meticulous, it is not lifeless. Swanson creates dramatic tensions in his architectural structures, such as the single lamppost illuminating a flooded road in Terraform Floodplain. In Sunburst Radiant, dark squares are accumulating to block the radiant sunlight from the forest behind it. Another example is his painting Luminary Phase, where Swanson constructs a multi-perspective space of excavated urban landscape against a dark backdrop. This futuristic archaeology exposes a series of radiant hi-rise structures flashing fiery light from behind a fractured derelict neighborhood foreground.

Michal Gavish Harwood 2 s

While his work takes a clear environmental stand, its strength is in its abstracted subtlety. Rejecting slogans, Swanson conveys his message by including the menacing urbanization in his peaceful landscapes. His abstracted shapes create a language that narrates the collision between the geometrical and the organic, leading his viewers to experience their unavoidable collision.The story that Swanson is telling us is not new. He is alerting us to dangers that we are well aware of. Yet the simplicity of his strokes and his concise narratives are effective, when he delivers his important message through elegant quality. His new paintings become part of a long tradition of American landscape painters, whose narrative is currently shifting from romantic calmness to environmental anxiety.

The works in Subsurface Continuum are literal landscapes and abstract compositions at the same time. Swanson allows the two genres to coexist and even gain from each other. By abstracting his paintings he makes his landscapes infinite, while the abstract absorbs a narrative perspective, turning into an ecological prophecy.Michal Gavish Harwood 3 s


On View until Nov. 1st 2014
at Eleanor Harwood Gallery, 1295 Alabama street, San Francisco

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