Canvas to street
|By Kinsee Morlan|
From traditional paintings and urban art to pieces made through digital means, our takes on three current exhibitions
Viva la Revolucion @ MCASD
The most interesting aspect of Viva la Revolucion: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape is in the subtext. As I neared the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, I ran into a young couple on bikes who were excitedly pointing out street-art locations on the exhibition map and setting off on a self-guided tour. I’ve witnessed people discovering the Os Gemeos piece on the Horton Plaza parking lot for the first time. I’ve walked by both young and old folks standing in front of Shepard Fairey’s piece in South Park, wondering aloud if it’s President Obama’s face on the body of a geisha or a monk. Almost daily, people post pictures of their own Invader sightings on Facebook. And as I write, three young arts groups are busily researching San Diego street art and putting together a bike tour in Tijuana and San Diego that explores the local history of the urban phenomenon. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen and heard such a wave of public reaction to a museum show. This reaction, no doubt, was guest curator Pedro Alonzo’s main intent.
The conversations encouraged by art in the urban environment—or, conversely, urban art placed inside a white-walled museum—are the most intriguing thing about street art itself. Not everyone likes graffiti, wheatpastes or stencils imposing upon their pristine public spaces. And some who love street art for its subversive, clandestine nature think Fairey and other urban artists who show in museums and engage with the establishment are sellouts. Both have points.
In Revolucion, on display through Jan. 2, the goal of inspiring dialog was achieved the minute the outdoor pieces “intervened” in public spaces. (You can find a map of the outdoor pieces at mcasd.org.) The indoor part of the show, though, ran the risk of muffling the art’s message by taking it out of its urban context. But thanks to the overwhelming beauty of the huge installation by Swoon, the eye-catching, urban-decay-turned-art by Vhils, the music-making trash can by David Ellis and Roberto Lang and the anti-consumer collection of prints by Banksy (this is the largest collection of his prints ever shown in public), the show was just provocative enough. If only Banksy had graced us with one of his outdoor pieces, right? Yet, as one museum staffer pointed out—there’s still time.
Pure Painting 3 @ Earl & Birdie Taylor Library
Good paintings don’t work their magic only through the eyes. If I could get away with it, I would press my nose into their fragrant depths. I would drag my tongue along the tangy contours of their rough surfaces. Paint has a native synaesthesia—a complex sensuality that allows the image to speak to us through many dimensions at once—as well as a materiality that retains the energetic traces of the artist’s own act of creation. For all these reasons, paint as a medium maintains some stubborn advantages over the conceptualism that has dominated the art world in recent decades and over the digital media that continue to blossom.
Mark-Elliot Lugo, visual-arts curator for the San Diego Public Library system, has long been a champion of paint. With Pure Painting 3, on display through Oct. 9 at the Earl & Birdie Taylor Library (4275 Cass St. in Pacific Beach), he’s put together his third exhibition celebrating this classic medium. The show brings together the work of 14 local artist, and within its tight focus is a wonderful demonstration of the expressive possibilities of paint—both figurative and abstract—and in oil, tempera, acrylic, encaustic and gouache. You will find here striking portraits by Vicki Walsh and Jesse Mockrin (Mockrin's "The Young Professional" pictured right), magical still lifes and interiors by Kathleen Marshall, serene landscapes by Stuart Burton and Constance Athens and surrealistic visions by Jen Trute.
There’s also a number of pure abstracts: Robert Treat’s encaustics have a remarkable density of sensation and suggestion, and Marsha Boston’s acrylics have an embedded mythopoeic quality. The exhibition also includes paintings that draw their force from the play between abstraction and representation; Dan Adams’ brushstrokes express the energy of paint and of subject at once, and Stephen Curry’s seemingly random blotches of color are haunted by the ghost of organic form.
Homage @ Escondido Arts Partnership Municipal Gallery
The Digital Art Guild (digitalartguild.com) is a casual group of artists who joined together to learn from one another. When they formed in 2003, they were diving into a relatively new form of art that still struggles with acceptance in the fine-art world.The Guild discusses ideas, shares techniques and, occasionally, puts on exhibitions. Homage is the most recent show fueled by the digitally inclined crew and, while the show as a whole is like a charming but poorly put-together, hand-sewn quilt, there are individual pieces that stand out in contrast with the more folksy attempts at digital art.
For Homage, on display through Aug. 21 at the Escondido Arts Partnership Municipal Gallery (262 E. Grand Ave.), curators Joe Nalven and Jim Respess approached guild artists with an idea. They wanted to assemble a show that “revealed [the artist’s] approach to art” and represented something that inspired them. The range of work Nalven and Respess received—everything from abstract work made through algorithmic methods to digital photography barely tweaked enough to even notice—was a hodgepodge of pieces that would have benefitted from some editing.
Instead, the pair turned away only a few pieces, so it’s up to the viewer to find the gems. And in the age of digital art dancing across movie screens in the form of Avatar and the new Alice in Wonderland, it’s likely there’s nothing in the show that will completely captivate or astound you. Guy Mayenobe’s “Leonardo Who?" (pictured right), an eerily smiling, digitally enhanced mannequin, is the star of the show. A play on both the Mona Lisa and German fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld, the piece is printed on metal for a high-gloss look, and the effect is lovely. Liz Lopes’ “Sanction of the Cloth” is textured and telling—a tribute to clothing and how it represents class and stature. Joyce Harris Mayer’s piece is worth a look, too. And, if Hollywood has influenced your taste in the digital arts, Stephen Burn’s “The Scream” will likely be the work that tickles your fancy.