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

@2014

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Alicia McCarthy: New Paintings

Alicia McCarthy:  New Paintings

by Michal Gavish

Geometry has become the latest wave of abstract art to overtake the Oakland art scene. This summer, several galleries are exhibiting shows ranging from contemplative poetic geometries to sharp and mechanical op art. Of these, the new, unassuming paintings by Alicia McCarthy at Johansson Projects are outstanding. In this new, mixed-media series on found wooden panels, she transforms her temperate punk symbols into a new, formal language.

McCarthy has been painting in Oakland since the 1990s as an integrative part of the Mission School Tradition. She has had six solo shows with Jack Hanley in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, where she exhibited punk-painting installations. In her recent project she maintains her spontaneous aesthetic of vivid colors, while arresting them in geometric grids. However, her lines are not perfectly rigid, as they are drawn by hand, without the aid of any guidance tools or rulers.

Michal Gavish McCarthy1 Johanesson sEven McCarthy’s black and white pieces release an iridescent glow that suggests a vivacious undertone. In the first – Untitled (1) – two stylistically different panels hang adjacent to each other. The left-hand panel displays a single word, which pops out against a dark background. The second panel displays a painted latticework, which suggests a carefully worked, woven structure. The striking presentation of a calligraphic text besides the separate image of an obviously hand-made pattern extends the work beyond the Mission School aesthetic into a wider, art-historical context, evoking the form of ancient manuscripts.

Michal Gavish McCarthy JOhanesson 2 sIn other works, McCarthy confines her patterns to partial areas of the panels. This constriction turns the patterned sections into awkward objects that stand out from the simple ground. The object in Untitled (2) is a strange, checkered pattern, corralled by a lopsided triangle at the panel’s center. In Outside/Inside, McCarthy creates a similar oddity, drawing in pencil and house paint a hive constructed from piled rectangular cells. Most of the panel, however, is left empty, resulting in a strange architecture that appears to grow from the bottom edge in a geometric mass of neatly arranged cells against a rich, greenish background.

The magic in McCarthy’s new works lies in their suspension between the scientific and the handmade. These original pieces show an artist mediating between these two poles. By using her grid as a direction rather than a constraint, her slightly meandering but confident contours become organic and genuine while maintaining the purpose of creating geometries. With her approximated straight lines, she redirects her gentle punk and gives it new frame and formal content.

Among the many abstract-geometrical interpretations now on exhibit in Oakland, McCarthy’s contemplative shapes stand out in the handcrafted and irregular layouts of their invented geometries.

 

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Amy Ellingson: Iterations and Assertions

Iterations and Assertions

by Michal Gavish

Following the opening of Amy Ellingson’s new exhibit, Iterations and Assertions, at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), the San Francisco-based abstract artist gave an eloquent talk describing her work. Walking in the gallery, the viewer is struck by a collection of bold shapes and colors jutting from around the room. Already known for her paintings based on computer-generated graphics, Ellingson impressively extends her practice to include three-dimensional sculptures and a monochromatic mural.Michal Gavish Amy 1

She begins by describing her complex painting process. A laptop serves as her sketchbook as she shapes and distorts colorful geometric fragments. The pieces are then manipulated and compiled, resulting in a multi-layered composition. Finally, she reproduces the digital image by laboriously painting it, layer by layer, in oil and encaustic onto the panels.

With her new exhibition at the ICA, Ellingson describes the opportunity to move beyond her established painting repertoire. She recreates her myriad painted fragments as 17,000 individual encaustic pieces and places them on a long pedestal parallel to the panels. The three-dimensional pieces appear extracted from the painting, creating an impression of color transforming into substance.Michal Gavish Amy 2

On the opposite wall, a monochromatic mural of similar dimensions halts this celebration of shapes and colors. Grayish, pixilated lines contour throughout the expansive, bare mural. Echoing the painted panel and sculptural installation, Ellingson describes how they are intended to imply a sculptural grid. Stripped of color and shape, the mural suggests a simple, authentic essence to the variegated exhibit.
Examining the length and details of the installation inspires a contemplative interpretation, which is especially powerful in the parallel setting. Ellingson’s iterations of her abstract elements cover a large range. In her sculpture she renders her abstract color elements three-dimensional while in her mural she completely eliminates her color into a system of contoured lines. This inspires associations ranging from archaeological findings to topological mappings. Walking along these three works, the viewer surveys the colors and shapes, weighing their dimensionality against their linearity as if moving along on a conveyor belt, taking in the marvelous procession of this multitude.Michal Gavish Amy 3

 

On view Jun. 7 – Sep. 13, 2014

at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art

560 South First Street San Jose, CA 95113

Kristina Quinones – Emotional Sojourns

KristinaQ_Portrait_byBryanSunWEBMark Rothko wrote “I am not an abstractionist … I am not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. … I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions ― tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on”.  The work of Kristina Quinones falls squarely into this tradition of the so-called “color-field” painters – painters such as Rothko, Clifford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman and Morris Louis, among many others.  What was revolutionary about their work at the time was that it aggressively and specifically separated itself from any reference to objective context and sought, instead, to convey emotional complexity solely with the paint itself, both with color choice but also with technique – how it was applied.Justice_WEB

When I recently met with Kristina for this interview, we danced around the question of what the work was about.  When someone visits your studio, I asked her, do they want to know what the work is about or do they want to know how it was made?  In a somewhat resigned manner, she said that most of the time they wanted to know only about process.  As I have thought about this for a while, I realize that I asked the wrong question.  The question implied that the process of making her work and the context of her work were two entirely separate things.  And, in the case of Kristina’s paintings, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the continuing evolution of color field painting, paths are forged with new and innovative ways of using paint itself.  The work is very much about the materiality of the medium.  New paths can also be forged more subtly in context – the way that emotional states are described sub-consciously in the work.  Kristina’s work breaks new ground in both of these areas.

Relic_WEBThe process itself is innovative.  Acrylic mediums are poured over a wood panel and gently mixed by rocking the panel, creating the swirling effect.  The movement itself is almost a dance.  No brushes are ever used.  Kristina describes entering an almost meditative state, but not in the classic at peace kind of way.  Rather “meditation” allows whatever emotional state she is in at the moment to be translated directly into the movement of the paint and the choice of the colors. Her work consists of multiple layers.  Each layer must be allowed to dry completely before another layer is applied.  The layers vary in opacity – some are more transparent, some more mysterious.  There are typically 10-12 layers; each layer interrupted by 3-4 days.  There is a constant battle between control and uncertainty.  And, each time a layer is applied the emotional state that is transcribed can be different.  The range of emotions in any given work can be narrow or wide.Breed_WEB

What would meditation look like if it was visually represented?  What if the meditation did not dampen emotion, but rather created an efficient conduit?  What if the journey that was described was not simply a reflection of emotional state, but also a reflection of emotional direction, not strictly a transcription, but also aspirational?  Kristina’s work is a complex emotional sojourn memorialized.  Process and content are inextricably interwoven.

Forgiveness_WEBI first met Kristina shortly after she graduated from San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied printmaking.  She was already transitioning to painting.  Although, even when she was printmaking, her process was non-traditional – eschewing the traditional implements of the printmaker in favor of more direct applications of ink fields.  The paintings were a natural extension of those studies.

Since 2010, Kristina has been widely exhibited, with exhibitions in that year at Nieto Fine Art and Mina Dresden Gallery.  I invited Kristina to be part of the inaugural “FourSquared” exhibition at Arc Gallery in 2010, where she was one of 16 artists who created 16 micro-exhibitions.  In 2011, her work was featured in “Shine” at the Berkeley Art Center. She had a prestigious residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts and was in their Affliate Artist program from 2010-2012.  Then, in 2012 she began working with Joan McLoughlin who has since featured her work in her 2012 exhibition: “Who’s Afraid of Color”;  and exhibited her work in art fairs in San Francisco, Miami and Houston.  Her second exhibition at The McLoughlin Gallery  “Sugar High” will open this Friday, November 22nd in San Francisco.

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To arrange a studio visit or to see additional work, please contact The McLoughlin Gallery here.

Touchstone – The Art of Linda Connor

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Linda Connor has had a distinguished career as a photographer.  She studied with Harry Callahan at the Rhode Island School of Design; then went on to study with Aaron Siskind in Chicago at the Institute of Design’s Master Program.  Since 1969, she has taught photography at the San Francisco Art institute.  Her work is in important collections, both museum and individual, nationally and internationally.   Articles abound. 

I recently had the good fortune to visit Linda in her home in Marin County.  It is a magical place filled with treasures from her travels; art from her friends, colleagues and mentors; and, quiet nooks and crannies to sit and reflect on all of these things.  It is hard to know if the place is, in and of itself, intrinsically a magical place; or if it has been transformed by Linda and made so.  My guess is that it is a bit of both, because Linda is both an explorer and an alchemist, roles that are reprised in her photography. 

Visiting her home, there is a strong sense of connection.  The house and the gardens are rooted in Marin and they firmly connect you to what makes it a special place.  Linda’s famous collections are not random.  Each of the objects that have been collected connects you not only with its maker, but with its purpose.  Linda showed me a marvelous assemblage of Tibetan molds used for making amulets to ward off evil or cast out spirits.  She pulled out some molding wax and made me an ephemeral zodiac dragon. The objects are beautiful in their own right, but more importantly, once again they connect you not only to a place, a time and a purpose, but also to mystery that transcends that place, that time and that purpose.  Whether you are exploring her home or exploring her impressive body of work from the last 40 years, you begin to realize that you are surrounded by transcendent touchstones. 

The current exhibition of Linda Connor’s work which opens at Haines Gallery on November 1st provides an interesting opportunity to explore these touchstones.  There are several separate bodies of work represented in the exhibition.  Each series is very different from the others, but all of them explore how we connect not only to the world around us but also to mysteries that transcend the world around us.

Most of the photographs are from Linda’s Olson House portfolio, a series of 28 works commissioned by the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2006 to serve as an artistic dialog with early works by Andrew Wyeth of the same house and grounds.  The exhibition also includes more familiar works from her many trips exploring places steeped with “sacred structure”.  These include examples of her work taken with a large format 8×10 camera and printed both traditionally and also on silk banners.  And finally, there is a large accordion book of photographs which pairs images from a mural depicting the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara from a meditation cave in the Ladakh region of India with images of the surrounding landscape. 

In my conversation with Linda, she shared the initial apprehension she felt when she received the commission to photograph the Olson House.  Commissions were uncharted territory for her.  She had always chosen her own subjects and she was concerned about how she would make the work “Linda Connor” work.  She need not have worried.  The photographs, like all of her photographs, explore connections directly and transcendently.  Works like “The East Side … after Walker Evans” are, on one level, explorations of her personal connection to her photographic lineage.  However, on another level, they also capture the quiet, spiritual quality of the place.  This is even more apparent in “Door and Windows … after Charles Sheeler”.  Once again, the work is on one level an homage.  However, it also explores a subject that Andrew Wyeth frequently painted in his work – the subject of looking into places from outside through multiple doors.  It very much captures the spiritual nature of The Olson House.  One feels the presence of Andrew Wyeth and his muses, Christina and Alvaro Olson.

The gallery is also exhibiting a large accordion book which explores the connections between human renderings of the sacred and their natural echoes.  The entire accordion is unfolded and properly exhibited – standing, with images on both sides displayed.  In the book Connor pairs images of a sacred bodhisattva with natural echoes in the surrounding landscape.  And, in the process, the book itself not only explores connections to the mysteries that surround us, but becomes, as an object, a connection in its own right.

The Haines Gallery has also chosen to hang an older work, “Tomb Doorway, Petra, Jordan”.  This is one of my favorite works since it combines in one image, connections that Linda often explores separately.  The photograph captures the sense of spirituality inherent in the place itself.  There are the semi-ruins of an elaborately carved, darkened doorway. Over the centuries, the wind has changed the structure creating a hallucinatory framing of the doorway.  There is the human structure purposely created as a sacred touchstone.  Then, there is nature creating its own, even more beautiful variation on that touchstone, wrapping itself around the tomb’s doorway.  And finally, there is the photograph.  It memorializes the tomb and the wind.  But, in the process, the photograph itself becomes a touchstone apart.

“Two Worlds”, Linda Connor’s sixth solo exhibition at Haines Gallery runs from November 1 – December 22, 2013.  The artist will be present at the opening on November 1st.  Inquiries about works in the exhibition and other work by Linda Connor should be directed to the gallery.

Third Eye – The Art of Ron Moultrie Saunders

We spend our lives thinking that what touch, hear, smell, taste and, most of all, what we see is reality.

Seeing is believing.

I know what I saw.

Ron Moultrie Saunders has spent the last decade of his artistic career debunking these myths. He uses the camera to extend our vision, exploring the nature of things with alternate eyes.  For Ron, this is introspective work.  After losing both parents within two years, his photography, which had been more “outward looking”, transitioned and became more “inward looking”.  He began to use photography more as a way to think about his place in this world, as opposed to a way to chronicle the world around him.

With plants, the photograms expose their inner architecture.  He calls the series: “The Secret Life of Plants” and it is an on-going project.  He ventures into uncharted territories.  And, like the physical explorers of earlier times, it is not just about seeing what is out there.  Exploration is as much about the explorer as it is about the object of the exploration.

Ron attended the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a degree in Landscape Design in 1996.  His early work was very much informed by his design career with his photography focused on landscapes and travel.  In 2000, after his parents passed away, he began volunteering with children in the classroom as an art educator.  It was there that he started experimenting with photograms. It was a fun art activity for the kids. For him, however, the process was transfixing.  The way that light worked in photograms captured “an indescribable beauty and magic that exists in nature and within us”. He described to me a photogram of a strawberry flower.  The petal was white and the light went right through it in an almost gelatinous way; then, the tiny little hairs on the stems came out.  The smallest, unnoticed details can move into the spotlight.  It is not just seeing in an alternate view – it is, for Ron, re-envisioning.

Photograms are essentially a camera-less photographic process.  Objects are placed directly on the photo paper.  An enlarger is the light source.  A shadow of the object is captured.   Then, since the object is white where the light did not go through to the photo paper and black where it passed through; that image is reversed using the initial image as a negative in a darkroom.  The work is experimental.  Chance is embraced.  Unexpected results are, in many ways, the most revealing.  And, unlike many photographic processes, the feedback is immediate.

One gratifying side effect of his work with plants has been that it has inspired people to become more aware of what is around them. Friends are always bringing him interesting things to “photogram”.  One of his favorite gifts was oak leaves that had been partially eaten.  People think he made the patterns, but the patterns were, in fact, made by leaf eaters.

Ron is one of the artists featured in an exhibition at Arc Gallery opening this week.  The exhibition is titled: “FourSquared”.  As the name implies, there are 16 artists in the exhibition, each of whom was asked to produce 16 works.  It is a constrained format.  All the works must be small (12”x12” or smaller).  The works must hang together coherently, but also work individually.  For the exhibition, Ron has created 16 images of insects, plants, fruits and vegetables.  In addition to continuing with his photogram experimentation, this exhibition has further inspired Ron to experiment with alternative printing, as well.  The works are printed on bamboo.

Ron has also had several recent exhibitions of a new “body” of work (literally). Ron has been placing himself directly on the paper.  This series is called “Someday We’ll All Be Free”.  It has been a way to document his heritage and culture.  He utilizes his own body, various objects and the natural world to “symbolize his thoughts, feelings, and his place in the world as a Black American male”.

I often lead these artist profiles with an image of the artist working in his studio. The image that leads this article is definitely that.  “Middle Passage” is a work that was made by placing his own head on the glass laid over the photo paper.  He created a sense of motion by sweeping his hair over the glass.  And, the unexpected result of using the glass as an intermediary surface was tiny bubbles on the surface, almost as if he was swimming under water.  The name, “Middle Passage” refers to the passage over the Atlantic Ocean where slaves were transported from Africa to America.  Many perished and were disposed of at sea.  The work is one part of his very personal exploration of his history.

You can see Ron Moultrie Saunder’s work on display at Arc Gallery from August 25th – September 22nd.  To arrange a studio visit or to see additional work, please contact Corden Potts Gallery here.

Doodles in Space – The Art of Lauren DiCioccio

Despite Lauren DiCioccio’s relative youth, “what a long, strange trip it’s been” seems apropos.  An eclectic mix of life’s side alleys and back roads have informed and transformed her art. She has both sought and embraced opportunity at every turn.

Shortly after graduating from Colgate University a decade ago, she decided to travel, making ends meet with itinerant employment along the way.  Off she went to Sydney, where a chance posting lead her to hitch a ride into the Australian Outback. She worked as a short order cook at the end of a long and dusty road.  I cannot help but hear refrains of Jevetta Steele’s “Calling You” from the movie, “Bagdhad Café” rattling around my brain.  Much like a character from that movie, she is both social and not.  The isolated existence was a low-cost, contemplative place to make art.  Quiet interludes offered the opportunity to focus on abstract paintings that, at that time, continued the work she had been doing at university.  Twice weekly all of the local residents would gather to share newspapers, letters and other news, albeit slightly time warped.  Thus, the café offered socializing as well on a limited basis.

When she returned to the States, she began a requisite job search.  Once again, an “outside the box” opportunity appeared and off she went to spend six years as a resident manager at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.  It was another job that embraced the yin-yang of her social and hermit natures.  Djerassi, which is located in Woodside, is definitely down a back road; with no television and very limited internet.  There was, however, a rotating cast of resident artists.  Here, like in the Outback, the arrival of mail and the newspaper was a call to socialize.  The newspaper, in particular, became a touch point with the outside world – in a way defining her relationship with it.  She was drawn to employ it physically in her art. She started by using the newspapers to make a quilt.  This was the major turning point in her work.  Her art became more physical.  It detoured into an exploration of materials that were being being used.  The materials that appealed were materials with a particular transient quality.  Not only were the materials ephemeral, in and of themselves; they were also representative of a transience in our world; a world where we transition away from books and newspapers and slides and plastic bags.  Initially she would transform the materials, beautifully embroidering newspapers that were destined to decay.  Later, she began to meticulously reproduce the objects, in the tradition of trompe l’oeil; objects like her Chinese take-out “Thank you” plastic bags, replicated in bridal organza embroidered with silk thread.  She took books and embroidered over the letters on the page, using color-coding to create a secret language; presciently forecasting a time when the letters themselves will likely fade into a secret language accessible only to a small cast of scholars.  Like trompe l’oeil, with Lauren’s work, what you see is not necessarily what you get.

Lauren is a collector.  However, in a life lived out of a suitcase, physically collecting objects is not really feasible.  So her collections are not collections in a box or drawer.  Rather they are collections of memories.  There is a nostalgic, wistful quality to those memories.  With Lauren’s art, the process of remembering how things used to be distills them into something more profound.

The current exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery is an amazing opportunity to see yet another turn in her road.  The familiar objects are there.  There are the trompe l’oeil objects:  playing cards and U.S. currency in various denominations.  There is a collection of color-coded books.  Then, the exhibition detours with some wonderful new surprises.  There are embroidered pages of sheet music and recipes.  These are indirectly explorations of our senses.  They explore the yin-yang of “sense” deferred then realized.  The objects are encoded sensory journeys where, once de-coded, the sound, smell and taste leap off the pages.  There is also a collection of white mice and rabbits that been eviscerated.  The appeal here is a yin-yang exploration of cute and grotesque.

The separate explorations intersect with a particularly important piece:  “Cookbook with Braised Veal Heart”.  In dissecting her eviscerated rabbits and mice, Lauren pulled out the organs as separate works.  These are not anatomically correct organs; rather they are what she feels the organs should look like. When she pulled out (created) a veal heart, she decided to combine it with a cookbook page containing a recipe for braising the heart.  It is one of the most powerful pieces in the exhibition.  And, while many of the pieces in the show are available separately, Jack Fischer explained to me that Lauren felt strongly that this was a singular piece and that it needed to stay together.  One cannot help but agree.

It was the creation of these fantasy internal organs that led her back to her roots in abstract art.  As she was fashioning the organs, her subconscious would take over.  Objects took form of their own accord – representing no specific real world objects.  She and I agreed that it was almost like doodling.  And, when I mentioned it to Jack, he too embraced the idea, christening them “Doodles in Space”.  It’s an amusing idea.  However, the objects are not simply random doodles and they are not randomly assembled.  As with traditional still life, each pedestal in the exhibition is a still life composition.  Like traditional still life, there is a celebration of collecting and displaying things.  Also, like traditional still life, there is symbolism embedded in many of the components of the composition.  And, like traditional still life, there is a level of technical mastery.  While the individual pieces can certainly stand-alone, the compositions are greater than their component parts.  One cannot but hope that some curator will decide to give one or more of the collections the home that they deserve.

This is Lauren DiCioccio’s third solo exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery (49 Geary St., San Francisco). It will be on display through September 8th.  There will be an Artist Reception this Saturday, August 11th from 3:00 – 5:00 pm.  It is a great chance to meet a wonderfully articulate artist.  For inquiries about her work, please contact Jack Fischer Gallery here.

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