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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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.

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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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Lauren DiCioccio: Familiars

Familiars –  review of Lauren DiCiccio’s solo exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery

By Michal Gavish

michal gavish LD Jack Fisher sThree skirted cloth sculptures stand in the entrance to the Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco. Well-known Bay Area fabric artist Lauren DiCioccio stitches these large stuffed figures from scrap cloth. In an elaborate process she prepares their fabrics out of colorful cloth straps and weaves them into checkered warp-and-woof patterns. She then tailors the woven cloth over an armature and stuffs it with leftover material. The sewn group poses in an intimate setting, gesturing with irregular limbs at one another. They are caricatured but their interactions are personal and touching.Michal gavish Jack fishe exoskeletal LD sm

In the second part of the show, separated by a dividing wall, the artist arranges long backstage tables with an assortment of stitched variety. The colorful array displays small creatures of unusual shapes and strange extremities. Their fantastic features create a pseudo-scientific set of exotic breeds. Made of many types of fabrics, some of the figures appear with their armatures exposed, creating strange, exoskeletal species. Others are only partially covered, exposing their gobbled-up cloth innards. DiCioccio does not resolve her shapes. She lets her audience wonder about the nature of her fictional species as their inner and outer surfaces become indistinguishable.

LD groupThe small statues on the tables look like they came out of a toy-box. Their bizarre shapes trigger the imagination: some look like old handmade toys, others invoke extraterrestrial monsters and still others remind of fairytale creatures. This room shows the matter of imagination. It is out of these objects that the artist creates and imagines the scene presented in the entrance.

This exhibit provides an opportunity to see DiCioccio extending out of her comfort zone. She abandons her objects in favor of figuration and moves from groupofsmallsrepresentation to semi-abstraction. Abdicating her familiar and safe practice of embroidering ready-made objects, she now sews her invented figures from scratch. Instead of interpreting she fabricates new figures, shifting her practice to sculpting in cloth.

On view until October 18th, 2014

at Jack Fischer Gallery

311 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco




Meditation: The Art of Ada Sadler

Her paintings are meditations. All of Ada Sadler‘s recent works are oil paintings. All are painted on panels, either 6″ x 6″ or 9″ x 9″. The subjects are all ordinary objects. More often than not, she paints chairs. The settings are exceedingly quiet. The works are repetitive, almost like a Buddhist chant. And, in a similar way, they allow for focus – both for the viewer, and even more importantly, for the artist.

I recently saw a movie about a renowned Japanese sushi chef: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. It is the story of Jiro Ono, widely considered to be one of the greatest sushi chefs in the world. The movie is a wonderful study of “character”. Not to over-simplify, but his entire life has been an exercise in repetition: reproducing the same thing again and again, but not in a mechanical way – rather in a way that has allowed for small, incremental changes in the pursuit of excellence. Counter-intuitively, by constraining his subject matter and maintaining an almost ritualistic daily routine, his creativity has been unleashed. This is what made me think of Ada Sadler’s work – the constrained subject matter, the attention to detail and the process of refinement, all sustained over a long period of time. Her precise renderings of chairs and bathtub toys are journeys of creative exploration, more meta-physical than physical.

The works that first caught my eye were a series of small works featuring wind-up bathtub toys. However, her better-known, larger body of work features chairs. In both of the series, there is nothing exceptional about the physical objects. They are specifically, even overtly, ordinary. They are quintessential examples of the modern evolution of still life. There will be an exhibition later this summer opening at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, entitled “Significant Objects: The Spell of Still Life”. The curator of that exhibition, Gloria Williams Sander, has done a wonderfully succinct job of organizing that exhibition (and the genre of still life, in general) from four perspectives: “Depiction & Desire” – the wonder and magic that collections of objects can inspire; “Virtuosity” – the technical mastery of medium that astonishes all of us; “Decoding the Still Life” – the symbolism imbedded in still life compositions; and “Still Life off the Table” – the more expansive definitions of what constitutes still life that have emerged in the last century. While Ada is not in that exhibition, all four of these perspectives apply to and inform her work.

In her two signature series of paintings: “Bathtubbie Collection” and “Chairs” (which include several different sub-series), Ada Sadler demonstrates virtuoso control of light and color. The objects themselves are rendered in exquisite detail; and, like some old master paintings, the hand of the artist is disguised. The works are not “painterly”. The unadorned objects are front and center – stars of the paintings. The Chairs are not collections in a classic sense; rather they are surrogates for collections of memories. The Bathtubbies, on the other hand, are specifically collectibles. Unlike classic still life, these are not arranged collections on a table top. Ada photographs her objects – sometimes arranged, sometime not; then, she transforms her photographs in the paintings. The paintings may superficially appear to be literal renditions, but they are not.

I met with Ada over coffee recently. We discussed her background – studying art at the University of Kansas; detouring into administrative work to make ends meet; then, re-emerging as an artist in the late 80’s and early 90’s with pastels. Initially she showed at alternative venues, such as The Right Spot Bar and SF Open Studios. Her work was discovered and championed by a local San Francisco gallerist, Joe Chowing (now retired). She was juried into ArtSpan’s prestigious “Selections” exhibitions in both 1997 and 1998. Along the way, she transitioned to oil painting. Works that had featured populated landscapes with palm trees and swimming pools, began to lose the people. The compositions became simpler and more focused. Eventually, they ended up with just chairs.

We discussed still life in general. We discussed how it is tempting to characterize her works as photo-realistic, but how they fall squarely into the classic tradition of still life. In line with that tradition, I asked if the objects in the paintings were symbolic. It was a loaded question and they are. In a sense, she pointed out, the works developed into obsessions: 30+ works of souvenir cups & saucers; nearly 100 works featuring collectible bathtubbies; and 200+ works featuring chairs. The works are explorations of loss, but not in an anguished way. She recalled listening on the radio to a song in which the writer had talked about loss and the need to let go. She disagreed. She does not need or want to let go. Her paintings are touch points: the cups and saucers – a conversation with her mother; the bathtubbies – a conversation with children that never were; and, the chairs – a conversation with her father whom she lost to Altzheimer’s. There is a reason why the paintings, which are devoid of people, have such a powerful sense of presence.

Ada Sadler’s new works will be in an exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery which opens this Thursday from 5:30-7:30 pm. The exhibition will continue through July 7th.  This is Ada’s seventh solo exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, who has represented her for the past 14 years.  Inquiries should directed to the gallery.