Matt Smith Chavez
October 20, 2015, 10:08am
If you get up close to Shannon Finley’s paintings, on view at Jessica Silverman Gallery through October 29, you’ll catch a glimpse of the warp and weft of the canvas beneath all that color. It’s there, visible along the very edges of the work where the stretcher bars made tight contact with Finley’s pallette knife and squeezed out all the paint. But from the distance of your monitor you may not even realize that the slick compositions are paintings at all -- they originate on Finley’s computer, all polygons and symmetry and speaking a kind of digital language. Take one step closer and they’re unmistakably beautiful paintings, as engrossing and aesthetically wrought as large beautiful paintings tend to be. One step closer still and they performatively reveal their material processes -- scrapes from the palette knife trace the artist’s path, and dried globules of paint point to a temporal kind of accumulation. And the support, that canvas I mentioned earlier, begins to allude to that postmodernist bent of turning painting inside out, of making paintings that reveal themselves via their own constitution. But that’s not quite what’s happening here. At least not exactly. - Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor
July 17, 2015, 9:41am
There’s a piece of public art installed in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco that is quintessential Richard Serra. Two 80-ton steel slabs emerge from ground at a slight angle, tilting vertically as they extend 50 feet into the air. Like other works by Serra these are experiential sculptures, un-monuments meant to affect the way we perceive the space around them. That work is titled “Ballast,” referencing the performative heft of the piece as it serves as a kind of anchor in a transitive cityscape. Serra’s etchings at “Zero to One on Paper,” on view at Ratio 3 through August 21, share the same name, though in this case the titles are “Ballast II” and “Ballast III”. Like his public sculpture at Mission Bay the works at Ratio 3 are monolithic and textural, anchor-like in the expansive gallery space that also has works by a host of painters and other artists making editioned work on paper. - Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor
December 18, 2014, 8:52am
Helen Rebekah Garber’s paintings must be heavy. They’re covered head to toe in thickly impastoed oil paint revealing a layered painting process that must surely take months to complete. The paintings (on view in “Numbers” at Gallery Wendi Norris through January 9, 2015) seem heavy not only because of their size and impastoed heft but also because from a distance their nearly monochromatic surfaces can resemble talismanic rock engravings. They hang on the walls like sacred tablets. There’s a kind of spiritual allusion in Garber’s forms, at once seeming to reference mandalas, religious altarpieces, and Mayan hieroglyphs. The paintings speak to a kind of transcendentalism that we also find in the paintings of Chris Martin (like “For Paul Thek”) or even Forrest Bess (like “Before Man”). But up close Garber’s paintings tell a different story. – Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor
July 15, 2014, 9:25am
Forrest Bess never made a living as an artist. He spent most of his working life as a bait fisherman off the Texas coast making meager wages and living in ramshackle conditions. Yet he navigated the New York art world with relative ease. He exhibited his work at Betty Parsons Gallery along other artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman. He held a lifelong correspondence with notable art historian and critic Meyer Shapiro. And his work was purchased by distinguished art collectors like John de Menil. All the while Bess felt marginalized, perceiving that the artists of his generation thought of him as nothing more than a hick.
Bess, then, was a man of dualisms, at once a rugged roughneck in the oil fields of Texas and a deep thinker who corresponded with Carl Jung. He was both a supremely accomplished painter and an isolated fisherman who struggled with alcohol and mental illness. Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible, on view at the Berkeley Art Museum through September 14, presents Bess’ paintings alongside an archive of historical material that shed light on the artist’s life. -- Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor
June 30, 2014, 9:18am
The current show at Johansson Projects, Alicia Mccarthy + Jenny Sharaf, is a bit of a study in contrasts. For one, the artists find themselves at different points along their respective career paths. Alicia Mccarthy is a mainstay in the San Francisco Bay Area and part of the so-called Mission School, a group of artists that came to prominence in the city during the early 2000s. Jenny Sharaf is a recent MFA from Mills College in Oakland and a young emerging artist who has exhibited in LA and San Francisco. Their two person show at Johansson Projects seems to point to interesting contrasts in compositional approaches, one that responds to the world outside of the gallery, the other to the thingness of paint. – Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor
March 27, 2014, 10:17pm
If you’re a fan of underground hip hop then you’ve probably seen Jason Jägel’s (NAP #25) work. He’s produced album cover art for the likes of Dudley Perkins, Madlib, and MF Doom, including the cover of the 2011 reissue of Operation: Doomsday (originally released in 1999), a classic in underground hip hop. If you’re unfamiliar with any of these names then you’re more likely to be impressed by the twenty years exhibiting that Jason has under his belt, half of those coming after he completed his MFA at Stanford University in 2002. His current exhibition, From the Sky, Rivers Look Like Snakes (through March 31), marks his first show in the expansive loft space of Gallery 16. It offers a glimpse at the narrative line drawings that have become Jason’s signature style. And it includes oil paintings -- a first for the artist since 1997 -- that seem to hint at the influences guiding his work. - Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor
February 14, 2014, 8:41am
To say that JPEG images don’t do justice to Mitzi Pederson’s work at Ratio 3 (3:43, open through Saturday, February 15th) is a bit of an understatement. Her exploration of materials finds her once again working with tulle, a fine netting that is lightweight and translucent and seemingly fragile from up close -- good luck capturing that with your DSLR. Sculpturally, Pederson continues to work with simple arrangements of cinder blocks on the floor that are formally reminiscent of Carl Andre. On the walls her assemblages are clear references to painting -- squint your eyes enough and Pederson’s color palette might remind you of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, step back and you’re sure to find a connection to Rebecca Morris’ whimsical abstractions. I recently had the chance to email Mitzi a few questions about her show, her materials, and her interest in painting. Her answers after the jump. -- Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor
February 02, 2014, 9:36am
Laura Judkis (NAP #100) doesn’t make black paintings. Sometimes she doesn’t even use black in her compositions at all. Her work is pushed by the dark theatrical narratives that are associated with the color black, and even though she often works with other colors these associations tend to persist -- in her work white becomes the absence of black, pink becomes its twisted hyperactive relative, etc. It all points to the cultural imprint that black leaves on our psyche. Ultimately, black may not be the color that we see in front of us, but the color that we imagine when we look.
Installation view of Laura Judkis’ work in Group Show (2013) at sophiajacob in Baltimore.
Over the last two weeks I’ve spoken with artists that work with the color black. Two weeks ago I spoke with Vincent Como about the connection between his paintings and modernism. Last week I chatted with Sean Talley about his interest in using black as a means of investigating the material properties of his compositions. This week, in the final installment of this series, I speak with Baltimore-based Laura Judkis, whose dark narratives evoke black even when she avoids the color all together. My conversation with Laura after the jump. -- Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco contributor
January 26, 2014, 7:08pm
Long time critic David Levi Strauss proposes that art criticism “involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things.” Sean Talley’s most recent body of work makes a similar kind of assertion with regard to color. For every black surface in Talley’s work there’s a blacker still, an ever finer distinction among like things. And while black may sometimes be considered the absence of color, in Talley’s case it can remind us that chromatic variations result from surface and material properties. As Ad Reinhardt explained, there’s “a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous (brilliant) black and matte black, black in sunlight and black in shadow.” Black, it turns out, is a multiplicity of colors.
Last week I started writing about the relativity of black -- black can mean everything at once or nothing at all. I recently had a chance to speak with three diverse artists about the way they use black in their work. Last week I talked to Vincent Como about his monochrome paintings and their relationship to modernism. Today we post my conversation with Oakland-based artist Sean Talley. Next week you’ll be able to read my conversation with Baltimore-based Laura Judkis. My interview with Sean after the jump -- Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor
January 19, 2014, 2:39pm
We’re all familiar with Spinal Tap’s ruminations on the color black. In this memorable scene of the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, the band gathers around their manager as he reveals the jacket cover for their new album, Smell the Glove. There’s no text or any other adornment on it. It’s simply black -- understated and confusing for a 1980s hair band. “You can see yourself on both sides. It’s like a black mirror,” a bewildered bassist mutters. “Well, I think it looks like death. It looks like mourning,” complains the singer. “There’s something about this that's so black. It’s like ‘how much more black could this be?’ And the answer is none. None more black,” observes Nigel, the lead guitarist.
It’s all rather comical. But it’s also kind of profound -- black is death, black is the absence of anything else, black is mystifying, black is stupid. Ad Reinhardt, who was the “black monk” of the New York School, may have agreed most with Spinal Tap’s guitarist. For Reinhardt black was purely an aesthetic-intellectual pursuit and hence the negation of all symbolic meaning -- “none more black,” as Nigel put it. Color, on the other hand, is always making assertions and striving for meaning, and in that sense, Reinhardt added, “it may be vulgarity or folk art or something like that.” -- Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco Contributor