What's up at the
galleries this month?
by Sura Wood
This year gets off to a crowded start with a broad range of gallery shows around the Bay Area. Take Oakland. Yes, Oakland, which may be for San Francisco the mecca Brooklyn has become for restless Manhattanites. Despite its distressed buildings and rough neighborhoods, Oakland's proximity to the city and its comparatively low rents have spawned hot exhibition/work spaces and attracted an influx of hip, young and not-so-young creative types hungering for vitality and the promise of the new.
Jasmine Moorhead's innovative Krowswork Gallery & Project Space is a prime example of the trend. The gallery's latest show, Sylvia Fein: Surreal Nature, is a retrospective of some 50 paintings by the 94-year-old Midwestern-born, Martinez-based painter, dating from 1942 to the present. In 1947, Fein's work was exhibited alongside Max Ernst and a young Jackson Pollock. Her early surrealist pieces, considered feminist and radical at the time, are characterized by narratives suffused with longing, loss, the madness of WWII, and a return to feminine power and magic. The latter theme is expressed in "Lady in Landscape with Animals" (1942), which draws on ancient spirituality and the natural world in its depiction of a half-naked amazon surrounded by a menagerie of woodland creatures, while "Lady with the White Knight" (1942-43) is a medieval, Eden-like fantasy where a barefoot, bare-legged would-be Guinevere and her Lancelot stand idly in the midst of a forest. Sewn into his chainmail garment is a heart-shaped, all-seeing eye, a favorite Surrealist motif that would resurface in Fein's work 60 years later. Now embracing sea, sky and the cosmos, she uses egg tempera – a mixture of yolks and powdered pigment – that produces the radiant glow displayed in the stormy "Shape of the Sea" (1964) and the alien tangerine skies of "Bay Sun through Raccoon Straits" (1958). (Jan. 18-Feb. 22) www.krowswork.com
RayKo Photo Center Lost and Found: Works of Art by Heidi Kirkpatrick Kirkpatrick's hand-made amalgams investigate the female form, family histories, and how women filter their experience of the modern world. Using photography as her primary tool, she transforms found materials into three-dimensional art objects, blending transparent figures, family portraits and illustrations with well-worn books, boxes, copper plates and vintage souvenir containers. In her personal life, the artist contends with chronic debilitating pain, a condition that led to her dissection of Gray's Anatomy. Its illustrated pages are layered underneath imagery of Kirkpatrick's nearest and dearest, a therapeutic process that helps her cope with physical suffering. (Jan. 17-Feb. 23) www.raykophotocenter.com
Rena Bransten Gallery Tracey Snelling: Mystery Hour Every day is Halloween, or so one might surmise from Snelling's latest sculptures, photographs, videos and scary diorama installations like "Zombie Island" that are informed by horror-movie schlock, true-crime shows, and just maybe, The Island of Dr. Moreau and other similarly sinister low-brow tales. Haunted, dilapidated manses, posters promoting cheesy fake films, women held against their will, illumination courtesy of cheap neon; well, you get the picture. Snelling's previous exhibition, entitled Nervous Women: Two Centuries of Women and Their Psychiatrists, is one I'm truly sorry to have missed. (Through Feb. 15)
Modernism Elina Anatole: Into Elina's Armoire takes us into the metaphorical closet where the artist stores her psyche and her history. Anatole, who's in her late 20s and emigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, focuses on the cultural gap between her homeland, stubbornly entrenched in the past, and the materialism and forward-looking ethos of her adopted country. Classically trained and working in her preferred medium, oil on wood panel, she fuses Renaissance symbols with off-kilter experiments in fashion photography. A pale, waif-like blonde is enfolded in white tulle. Yet another, in a strapless taffeta gown, a skirt billowing behind her, is a figure so ethereal she appears to walk on air. Meanwhile, a show of Robert Stivers' recent work features vintage, sepia-toned photographs that recall the early days of the medium and silent movies. Viewing these tantalizing, blurry images with intimations of the unreal such as "After Sargent," a portrait of an elusive woman in black the details of whose appearance we can't quite make out, is like looking into the far distance without glasses, or trying to focus eyes heavy with sleep when suddenly a single tattered glove comes into high relief, or you notice the frayed binding on a beloved volume of poetry. A self-taught photographer who prints on matte papers and hand-tones his pictures in the darkroom, Stivers is a former dancer/choreographer partial to bodies in motion like "The Dancer," whose arched back and extended arms obscure her face and bring Martha Graham to mind. (Jan. 16-March 1) www.modernisminc.com
Bernardo Roman Palau.
Photo: Courtesy Jack Fischer Gallery
Jack Fischer Gallery Somewhere Between Here and There: Ken Graves & Bernardo R. Palau Think of a builder who has a way with the camera, and you have a glimmer of the strange and wonderful world of Ken Graves, where surrealistic elements mingle with Victorian paper collages, parody and the absurd. His training in photography is reflected in his framed compositions and collages, which weave thread and feathers with pop-culture imagery culled from magazines and medical journals from the 1930s through the 50s. With these and other materials, Graves produces small, meticulously arranged tableaux populated by figures in incongruous settings. The results, a kind of Mad magazine meets Hieronymus Bosch, are bizarre, and I mean that in a good way. Take "Putting Them Out of Their Misery," in which several chairs are suspended from the ceiling while one lying on the floor is being sprayed by what looks like a bellhop. Then there's the diver perched on the shoulders of a man with spikes protruding from his spine ("The Meaning of Gravity"). Also exhibited are Palau's theatrical oil paintings that hint at an underlying melancholy. The barrenness of a desert landscape is relieved by a lone tree, dogs and birds pose under a crescent moon, and peculiar characters with missing limbs betray their sense of isolation. (Through Feb. 1) www.jackfischer.gallery
Cartoon Art Museum Searle in America Ronald Searle, a British cartoonist and illustrator who traveled the U.S., sketchpad at the ready, on assignment for glossy magazines, trained his savage eye and lacerating pen on American politics and culture in the late 1950s and 60s. In following the Nixon/Kennedy campaign and the oddities of the American way, he gave us a chance to see ourselves as our neighbors across the pond did. (Through Mar. 30) Grains of Sand: 25 Years of the Sandman is an exhibition of original artwork from Neil Gaiman's Sandman saga, which unfolded in a monthly 75-issue DC comic-book series that ran from 1988-1996. It included storylines reminiscent of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and introduced Morpheus, Lord of the Dreams, a hallucinatory landscape encompassing the dreams of the living and the dead, gods, demons and monsters; all in all, a very busy place. Gaiman later revisited the character in graphic novels. Among other trials, Morpheus escaped mortals who had imprisoned him and traveled through realms of myth and fairy tales, the American back roads and hell, which may be the same thing, eventually finding contentment in the spiky bosom of his family, The Endless, a concept familiar to anyone who spent the holidays at home. (Through Mar. 16)