What’s Happening in East Bay Art

Our critics weigh in on local art.

Angie Brown and Dan Lewis — Judging by the severed hands, Godzilla drawings, alien oral sex, and penises, Dan Lewis has cornered the market on “abused fourth grader” folk art. The California College of Arts and Crafts graduate and Berkeley resident has crates upon crates of notebook-size paintings and pencil drawings, two dozen of which were selected by Boontling Gallery curators for a show with fellow CCAC grad Angie Brown. Lewis’ work looks deliberately shoddy on the surface, but there’s a coherent theme indicating at least a plan if not a message. The repetition of crudely drawn men and women — most with empty eye sockets (i.e., no soul) — in various states of everyday living eventually gets under the skin and creeps viewers out; a nice contrast to Brown’s earnest female nudes. (Through January 8 at 4224 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; BoontlingGallery.com or 707-980-1060.)

Building City Beautiful: Mayor Mott’s Oakland — Century-old photographs, news clippings, telegraph transcripts, and book excerpts tell a tale of corruption, hope, and fire in early-20th-century Oakland this week at the Oakland Public Library. Timed to coincide with the centennial of Mayor Frank K. Mott’s reign (1905-1915) and the San Francisco earthquake and fire (1906), the ironically named exhibit leaves a lot of questions unanswered about the place that was once called the “Carthage of the Pacific.” What happened to all the money Mott secured for the city’s residents when he took back the waterfront and port from private interests? How did a place built on “culture and commerce” end up lagging behind a neighbor that burnt to the ground, discharging 165,000 smoky refugees? Building City Beautiful shows a new city hall, new parks, and a mantra-like sense of civic spirit made more upsetting by its present, palpable lack. — D2 (Through April 15 at the Oakland Main Library, 125 14th St., 2nd floor; OaklandLibrary.org or 510-238-3134.)

Larry Stefl, John Toki, and Pamela Stefl — Art dealer Stephen Headley finishes strong with this final exhibit at his six-year-old Osceola Gallery. Pamela Stefl and John Toki dominate a tiny, 700-square-foot gallery with more than a dozen abstract paintings and sculptures using very novel, weighty techniques. Stefl recently learned clay monoprinting, a hypnotic method that can generate watercolors without the appearance of brushstrokes. First, she fashions large flat slabs of wet, pigmented clay, then lays sheets of fiberglass paper over it and uses a rolling pin to push the fiberglass into the clay and soak up the pigment. When she lifts the sheet off the slab like a paper towel off a wet countertop, she has a colorful negative of the clay’s face, which dries to enthralling effect. Her forty-by-sixty-inch “Glass” is bright, watery red, blue, and white geometries shot through the smooth warping of what looks like, yup, stained glass. Meanwhile, Toki remains famous for giant clay sculptures straight from the Archaean period. He spikes Osceola’s hardwood floors with quizzical, glyphic stalagmites weighing in at more than a ton. — D2 (Through January 14 by appointment at 4053 Harlan St., Suite 305, Emeryville; OsceolaGallery.net or 510-658-1440.)

Lewis & Clark: The Corps of Discovery — East Bay punks can’t compete with the original outcasts of this tragic kingdom. Tattoo Archive takes us back to a time when face tattoos on chicks were hot and faux-hawks could get you killed. The little ink-hole on San Pablo doesn’t look like your traditional tattoo shop, what with all the bookshelves and evidence of scholarship. And it isn’t. Owner C.W. Eldridge is a Berkeley tattooing legend, writer, and scholar. In commemoration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he threw together a little exhibit of Indian ink on the south wall. (Through July 31 at 2804 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; TattooArchive.com or 510-548-5895.)

Rebirth: New Photos of Armenia, Georgia, and the Former Yugoslavia — Eastern Europe is the new Western Europe: cheap, inviting, and stocked with young blond locals long gone from convalescent homes like Paris or, egad, London. Vaughn Hovanessian stokes Berkeley’s wanderlust for the Easy E with more than two dozen digital prints from parts once behind the Iron Curtain or recently cluster-bombed. Unfortunately, he almost entirely ignores the people — who are rumored to be both limber and friendly — for architecture studies that would be laughable had they not looked great and sported awesome names like “Ljubljana Bridge, Dubrovnik,” “Mostar Bridge, Bosnia,” and “Zagreb, Croatia.” Hovanessian gets the best of what these war-torn cities have to offer; now he needs to go back for some people. (Through January 8 at Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St.; BerkeleyPublicLibrary.org or 510-981-6100.)

Traditions Unbound: Groundbreaking Painters of 18th-Century Kyoto — There’s a new anime series called Samurai Champloo sweeping the Cartoon Network, an cunning mix of art-history-informed lines with hip-hop tracks and editing. Its makers are studiously biting most of 18th-century Japanese culture, including the art, and a choice selection of their source material is presented at an exclusive North American engagement in San Francisco this week. Traditions Unbound shows viewers the templates of mainstream art around Kyoto in the 1700s. Then it shows a few radicals taking the rules to their very edge and finally breaking them to jaw-dropping effect. Of the radicals, Nagasawa Rosetsu is the most flamboyant, spectacular, and representative of the Champloo ethic. A son of a samurai and an itinerant drunk, Rosetsu wasn’t above using his fingernails or (sacrilege) his palms to achieve dramatic ultra-angled, high-contrast effects. He splices these black slashes with big-eyed smiling fuzzy wildlife guaranteed to melt a Japanese schoolgirl’s heart. Champloo season two just came out on DVD, but Rosetsu remains way ahead of his time. (Presented in two parts through January 8 (I) and January 11-February 26 (II) at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco; AsianArt.org or 415-581-3500.)

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