By Joy Shannon
“Transduction: Eight as One,” an exhibition highlighting the diverse works of eight CSUSB Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art and Design students, is currently on display at the National Orange Show Art Gallery in San Bernardino from September 28 through October 26. Featuring a variety of media including painting, sculpture, photography, glass, ceramics, video and installation art, the artworks of this show confront themes of cultural heritage and personal identity, as well as playing with pop-culture imagery.
This show in particular, showcases the conceptual strength of the MFA program at CSUSB and the school’s ability to foster the diverse talents of its graduate students. Every one of the artist’s works featured is a unique and well-thought out body of work from the painting of William Christensen, the bold photography of Mayte Escobar and Humberto Reynoso, the video and audio installation work of Andrew K. Thompson mixed media work of Jay Dawes, Price Hall, A.E. Van Fleet and the sculptural glasswork of Nao Yamamoto.
Many of the artists represented in this show confront cultural concepts of identity. William Christensen’s expressionistic, angst-ridden paintings tackle pop culture icons of super heroes in order to confront struggles with the male gender role. Christensen’s work cunningly responds to Roy Lichtenstein’s famous damsels in distress, by displaying men in a “gilded blend of bravado and excellence” who are really in distress underneath the surface.
Mayte Escobar’s photography and video work confront her Mexican American cultural heritage. For example, her 2013 video installation Chips and Salsa, combined imagery of Folklorico dance, agriculture and classic Mexican music in order to create a reflective meditation upon the “consumption of Mexican culture.” Additionally, Escobar creates tiled mosaic photo portraits which play with the colors of the American and Mexican flags in the Mexican American Sequence.
In step with Escobar’s confrontation of the self-identity, Humberto Reynoso uses his photography to boldly face homosexual stereotypes, gender theories and gay politics. Creating absolutely gorgeous work which unabashedly displays sensuality, Reynoso is fearlessly carrying on the torch of such artists as Robert Mapplethorpe and Felix Gonzales-Torres.
The mixed media work of both Jay Dawes and A.E. Van Fleet combine layers of pop culture imagery to create personally reflective pieces. The two-dimensional work of Jay Dawes are comprised of, at times, both playful and reflective collages which harken back to the pop culture collage work of Richard Hamilton, with some of the surrealism of Max Ernst’s famous collages. A.E. Van Fleet’s work makes three-dimensional assemblage altarpiece shrines out of subculture junk. With mixed media pieces like Devil Inside (2013), he elevates pop subculture imagery to some mysterious and mystical cult significance.
Wittily responding to cultural norms, Andrew K. Thompson creates fascinating audio and video installations which play with language and innuendo. Thompson’s work plays with the implied meanings between the lines of phrases that we culturally understand, without it being explicitly written.
Lastly, this show displays the meditative and spiritually reflective works of Price Hall and Nao Yamamoto. Price Hall hand-burns haiku poetry into dyed cardboard, creating moody, introspective pieces. Their dyed texture recalls thick fabric tapestries, yet the zen-like messages of these pieces, in combination with the expanse of a textured and dyed backgrounds, result in what feels like narrated versions of Mark Rothko paintings.
Nao Yamamoto creates stunning, delicate and graceful works in glass and fiber. The works are inspired by “the power of life” with references to eggs, seeds, or small bugs, which, when put together, reflect light in many directions. These primal pieces, are reminiscent of the inspiration behind the early 20th century plaster “concretion” sculptures of Jean Arp, yet being in glass, there is a more celestial quality to them.
In the end, this show felt true to its name “Transduction.” While the work was immensely diverse in both medium and concept, there seemed to be an energetic through-line that jumped from artist to artist. The essential creativity behind all the work was inspiring to see in one place.