Jens Hoffmann, director of the CCA Wattis Institute in San Francisco, is the juror for this year’s edition of Bay Area Currents, which includes 36 pieces by 7 artists: painters Rosemary Allen, Suzy Barnard, and Brandon Larson; collagist John Hundt; photographers Elizabeth Wilcox and Sarah Windels; and installation artist Zarouhie Abdalian, the only exception to this year’s predominant figuration.Allen has a studio in Oakland’s produce-packing district, and has been documenting manual laborers for several years. The construction workers that she photographs and paints are direct and unaffected, as is Allen’s unfussy gestural painting style. These vertical-format paintings, which recall Renaissance portraits of saints, are homages to manual labor, a genre long neglected, but here brought up to date. Barnard, too, is influenced by her “real world” surroundings — in this case, the container ships visible from her studio window, “large, languid still lives on the bay … inky, ghostly glimmering things … luminous and magnificent … swaths of color on an ever-changing liquid surface.” The ships and their misty world (“Blue Grey Morning,” “Night Blue”) are carefully observed and succinctly rendered. Larson’s four paintings are all photo-based, yet painterly, explorations of time, change and memory, to judge by the erasure in “Christmas Cactus,” the branch-held orb of light in “Growing,” and the dripping police-car headlights in “Presence.”
Hundt’s collages, with their subdued palettes, aged papers, and absurd juxtapositions, seem to have emerged from some 1920s Dada/Surrealist time capsule. In “Figure on Green,” a weird mechanical ostrich composed of rubber tire, elevator shaft, Ferris wheel, and gartered burlesque dancer turns to peer at us. In “Centaurus,” a rearing horse sports a 1950s fashion model’s head wearing an oval picture-frame hat. “Portrait of God Wearing His Thinking Cap,” with its Baroque, lace-collared prince/ss sprouting tendrils and tentacles against a starry night-sky/atomic-chart backdrop, is Joseph Cornell.
Wilcox explores typologies of similar objects in her Polaroid arrays (“Canopy,” “Durables,” “Overpass”); she also uses the same format for dissimilar objects (“Shape Study”) and explores formalist puns in her re-contextualized found photos (“From True Romance”). Sindels’ photos depict flowers and trees (“Desert Roses,” “Orchard’s Path”), combining lush color and atmosphere with conceptual detachment — an unusual mix of elements. Abdalian’s installation, “Flutter,” has silver membranes stretched taut over the gallery’s outside windows; powered by electromechanical gizmos, they vibrate as if the building were in motion, occasional “disorderly outbursts” simulating lurches and jolts. Temblor-phobes, you are forewarned. Artists’ talk Thursday, Aug. 26, 6:30 p.m. Bay Area Currents runs through September 3 at Pro Arts Gallery (150 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland). 510-763-4361 or ProArtsGallery.org