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.

Burnt Offerings – The Art of Judy Stone

Artist or artisan?  Throughout recorded history, the arts were passed down from master to apprentice, sharing techniques that were often closely guarded.  This was true for weaving, pottery, glass and metalworking – all now generally classified as “craft”; but also for drawing, painting and sculpture – now generally classified as “fine art”.  Culturally the distinction is very much Western and very much modern.

I recently visited the studio of Judy Stone, an East Bay artist working in enamel.  Judy is a very well-known enamelist, both nationally and internationally.  This is partly the result of her enamel art; and, partly a result of the extensive work that she has done in studying enameling and, to a certain extent, resurrecting the technical knowledge base of enameling.   Her studio is filled with scientific books, some written by her.  She teaches both the art and science at The Crucible in Oakland.  For a short time, she taught a course on enameling at the California College of Arts & Crafts (now the California College of Art).  With a certain undertone of glee, she pointed out that the course was short-lived because the science was too difficult for the students and A’s were hard to come by.  Still, she is a natural teacher and listening to her talk about the technical challenges inherent in creating her abstract enamel color fields, is fascinating.

Enamel was a detour in life.  In the late 60’s, Judy was studying German literature in Bochum, West Germany on a Fulbright scholarship.  She took a study break to check out a kiln that the University had purchased for enameling.  The beauty of the process was addictive.  It is no accident that the annual conference of The Enamelist Society features workshops entitled “Alchemy”.  The transformation of glass powder into enamel is indeed magical.  The academic in her became obsessed with knowing everything that there was to know about how it worked.  She soon realized how much of the traditional knowledge base had been lost.  It has become something of a life mission to both preserve the knowledge of people like Fred Ball, Bill Helwig, Margaret Seeler, Jamie Bennett, William Harper and Martha Banyas who were and are working in the medium; and to resurrect (or even reinvent) techniques that have been lost.

I was very interested in seeing her workshop and getting a rudimentary understanding of the science and the craft.  And, we spent quite a while there discussing the technical challenges of the medium.  Then our discussion moved to the works themselves and we started to talk about those in the context of fine art.  In the process of becoming a master of technique, Judy also became an artist.  In fact, in a traditional culture, it is only after one has truly mastered a discipline that one is allowed the freedom to unshackle from that discipline.  Her work is outstanding because it is rooted in great technical mastery.  It is art because it extends beyond that technical mastery; explores the boundaries of what is possible; and, incorporates elements of both intent and chance.

What has drawn me to her work is its treatment of color.  Much of enamel craft uses bright colors that are clearly delineated.  It is almost color-by-number.  The most well-known enamel technique, cloisonné, is all too often a good example.  Judy’s work is more sophisticated.  Her medium is the stage where she chooses to express herself.  Given her interest in German culture, it is no surprise that there is a clear influence of the German Abstract Expressionists, particularly Emil Nolde.  Her abstract compositions are very much rooted in landscape.  And, the colors bleed into each other, in an almost watercolor-like way.

With her series, “Burnt Offerings”, she lays her compositions which look like aerial landscapes on twisted, patchwork copper vessels.  They seem like beautiful fields overlaid on an apocalyptic, scorched earth.   She encouraged me to pick up a piece.  Visually it is a patchwork, like a Frankenstein landscape.  It is a quilt of pieces with subtle color variations.  Then, the form is all sharp edges and barbed wire.  Close your eyes and hold the work, and it changes.  It is surprisingly soothing – like holding a raku-fired tea ceremony cup.  It is work filled with contradictions.

Her vessel, “Accrual Bowl: Atlantis” is more serene.  It is a wistful memory of utopian times.  Again the form has subtle ridges and valleys only apparent if you hold the bowl.  The pastel colors are laid down in multiple firings.  In between firings, each of the layers is sanded down and polished, creating subtle variations that bleed into themselves and each other.  A work like this can take up to two months to complete, start to finish.  It is a technical tour de force of enameling.

For those of you who may be have a further interest in the history of how Judy Stone became an enamelist, there is an article by Brian Kluepfel, “All Fired Up” that is reprinted on her website.  The article originally appeared in The East Bay Monthly, Volume 35, No. 4, January 2005.  Brian does a wonderful job of tracing her journey into the world of enameling and chronicling the legacy that she has created there.

Judy Stone will be exhibiting in the American Craft Council Fair at Fort Mason in San Francisco, next weekend, Aug 3rd – 5th.  And, she will be at the Sausalito Art Fair for Labor Day weekend, Sept 1st – 3rd.  You can see her work on her website and she can be contacted there.

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.

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