Spatio-Temporal Flux

Seven painters mix it up in Surface Strata.

The Renaissance discovery of perspective led to convincing Cartesian
illusions of virtual space: realistically rendered figures became newly
tangible, located just behind the picture plane. Four centuries later,
that illusionistic wonderland having degenerated into what Maurice
Denis called a “naturalist lie,” modernist artists increasingly came to
see paintings as “flat surface[s] covered with colors in a certain
order,” and the old war-horses and young nudes were gradually
supplanted by geometry and painterly gesture. In the paradoxically
entitled Surface Strata, Michael Cutlip, Joshua
Dildine
, Jay Merryweather, Alison Rash, Kevin
Scianni
, Chris Trueman (also the curator), and Eric
Ward
explore pictorial spaces of various depths, eschewing the old
dogmatic distinctions. In our media-bombarded culture-mash mentality,
Scianni writes, “Actuality/virtuality, surface/depth,
physicality/immateriality, representation/abstraction all become
entangled.” Flatness and space again mingle freely.

Dildine, Rash, Scianni, and Trueman explore mark-making as a
space-creation. Dildine’s graphite/oil-pastel hatchings and smudges in
“Congested” and “Stockpile Memory” suggest neural networks, while his
clusters of impasto in “Space and Void” suggest magnetization and
crystallization — and the brambled planets of abstract
expressionist Adolph Gottlieb. Rash drips medium-bodied paint at an
angle to her panels in “Sideline” and “Floe,” and then scrapes or sands
the elliptical blobs down, creating gorgeous, lyrical surfaces; in
“Scotch and Water” she improvises a brushy, scumbled background and
then superimposes black and white honeycomb patterns. Trueman also
geometrizes painterly chaos in “The Collider” and “Volley,” creating an
abstract baroque space, an ambiguous hall of mirrors that keeps the eye
continually in motion, interpreting. Scianni favors a frontal classical
style employing video and computer game motifs; his planar abstractions
combine freely brushed shapes beneath arrays of pixels at various
magnifications, suggesting nature seen through a heads-up
windshield/cockpit display.

Cutlip, Merryweather, and Ward create psychological rather than
optical space. Cutlip adds collage to his abstractions, and his
black-and-white palette reads as calligraphy or notation rather than
landscape; in the grid of animal-themed collages, “Endless Journey,”
the artist is a subjective, vicarious naturalist. Merryweather’s
theatrically costumed subjects in “Common Thomas, the Veteran Cosmic
Rocker” and “The Walrus” read as portraits, but the metallic surfaces
and inscribed drawing contours emphasize their nature as artifices and
artifacts. Ward’s mixed-media “Portrait” takes the opposite strategy,
replacing its human subject matter with an extruded mask of charred
wood that slumps from the ornate frame; in “Fusion” the slagheap crawls
down the edges of a vibrantly colored abstraction, engulfing it. Also
showing: Gabe Sheen’s photos of street musicians. Surface Strata
runs through October 31 at Joyce Gordon Gallery (406 14th St.,
Oakland). JoyceGordonGallery.com or
510-465-8928.

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