Fertile Ground

Posted October 9, 2008 in Arts & Culture

Venus’ tortured flesh, the cherry red of blood and inquisitors robes, and the putrid green of rot litter Masami Teraoka’s formidable painting, The Cloisters/Venus and the Pope Bullfight. In Space 1975-1995 at the Kellogg Gallery, Teraoka’s versions of a nude, haloed Venus, at times pregnant, or simply voluptuous, battles with cadaver-faced clergy and hooded inquisitors. Teraoka employs the conflict between pagan and Christian with both the title of his work and the centrality of women’s sexuality in his painting.

The Cloisters is full of Teraoka’s personalized symbolism: an eclectic agglomeration with enough religious references, penitence and suffering to produce a sense of dread. While the work may be timely, the reality is that hypocrisy and cowardice are human conditions, not monopolized by any one institution, and in this painting, and in others by Teraoka, associations are made to create a generalized malaise, rather than a specific narrative thread. The question is whether Teraoka indiscriminately appropriates styles and images from renaissance painting, reducing his work to decoration—and morbid decoration at that. The fiendish violence in the work is directed only toward the voluptuous women; the bishops may cower, but they are not afflicted with gaping wounds or pierced by tampons, as is Venus, who, in one vignette, resembles the martyr, Saint Sebastian.

The power of women’s sexuality has long been a theme in Teraoka’s painting; he heralds women like a force of nature. However, the women in The Cloisters are both idealized and mutilated. Unlike in his New Wave Series of paintings which appear to unabashedly celebrate female sexuality, in The Cloisters Teraoka revisits his proclivity for cautionary tales.  

If Masami Teraoka is given to making grand statements, the work of other artists in Space 1975-1995 can be seen as reflections on every-day events. Deftly interweaving formal considerations with a conceptual approach, Joyce Kohl’s post-industrial oxidized steel and stabilized adobe sculptures speak to decay and entropy with titles that allude to physical, economic and social structures. Bridge, a rusted grid of 1/8-inch steel bears a curious resemblance to home plate in baseball. Adobe is extruded through the coarse steel mesh forming an uneven topographical relief, and the work generates associations with an infield. Kohl’s interactive sculptures, Market Fluctuations and Balancing act, are fabricated from industrial and construction discards. They rest in equilibrium, waiting to be set in motion. Market Fluctuations, a modified tripod of angle-iron, gears and adobe, pivots around one point, while two points of the tripod are wielded to a set of large steel rockers. As the sculpture see-saws, a steel ball rolls back and forth on the rockers, mimicking daily market gyrations.  

Larry Hurst’s eight small collages, nuanced explorations in text, color, and texture, are evidence of a life lived. Markers of the everyday, the collages incorporate objects such as a child’s discarded homework assignment and airline luggage tags, triggering memories of the plane boarding cattle call. In the collage, Extend Your Life, Hurst juxtaposes a ticket for the Centre Georges Pompidou with a plastic tag that gives the work its title. Another collage has a set of directions written on yellow notepad paper. The formal aspects of these loosely composed collages arise from the embrace of familiar, mundane objects: an ad, a picture of a tarantula, a shipping sticker, a discarded chocolate wrapper.

Joe Edward Grant employs existential titles for his airily painted houses like Just Passing Through or The Camps . . . Memories #2. A small untitled painting on panel is one of his best pieces here: the plywood grain shows through a thin layer of sienna colored acrylic ground. A hastily sketched window in the upper corner and the barest trace of a door communicate immediacy while the thin wash-like quality of the acrylic suggests the transience of memory.

Judy Tuwaletstiwa’s Traces, Spoken 1 implies earth. The left half of the canvas exhibits horizontal stretches of raw canvas broken by bands of white. On the right half, red handprints frame two weighty expanses of black, broken by horizontal burlap stitching. Christel Dillbohner’s two-panel painting, Furrows, also refers to the earth. The carved, rutted surface of the painting creates the impression of a scarred field, plowed in irregular lines.

Space 1975-1995 successfully reconvenes the artists from this significant LA gallery. With the recent passing of Space Gallery’s owner Ed Lau, the show assumes the added dimension of a tribute.  

Space 1975-1995 at the W. Keith and Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery, Cal Poly, 3801 W. Temple Ave., Pomona, (909) 985-1947. Thru October 18

Featured Artists:
Bob Anderson, Sandy Bleifer, Carl Cheng, Wes Christensen,  Steve Cortright, Phyllis Davidson, John Davis, Christel Dillbohner, Roberta Eisenberg, Bella Feldman, Judith Foosaner, Robert Glover, Joe Edward Grant, Kenneth Hale, Larry Hurst, Kazuo Kadonaga, Joyce Kohl, Seiji Kunishima, Sam Lemly, Norman Lundin, Minoru Ohira, Carlos Padilla, Ann Page, Patrick Percy, Tom Post, Norman Schwab, Olga Seem, Tom Stanton, Masami Teraoka, Richard Thompson, Judy Tuwaletstiwa, Alan Valencia, Boyd Wright, Doug Young, Michael Davis


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