Posted on 28 February 2014.
Cat's Eye, 2013, collage/acrylic on yupo paper, 11 x 14"
Abundant light is a well-known feature of second-story West Oakland galleries. Transmission, a one-time auto repair shop, now a pristine exhibition space, is no exception. The surprise is that Eva Bovenzi’s paintings, collages and drawings seem to supply more of it than already suffuses this upstairs room, located on an ungentrified block of Grand Avenue. The title of her show, Just Look, may, at first, feel a bit pushy, but it accurately describes what anyone subject to the allure of nonobjective painting will do voluntarily.
Nature is the obvious jumping off point for the more than 50 works in this show; yet apart from obvious references to eyes, horizon lines, plant life and wings, Bovenzi’s art leans hard toward pure abstraction. At a distance, its biomorphic and geometric shapes merge into floating totems. But within each work there teems a universe of plastic activity. It’s most pronounced in paper-on-canvas collages where the artist affixes painted shards of irregularly shaped yupo paper to canvas. Where this synthetic paper holds pigment on the surface, the canvas seems to release it, in tonal gradients that range from super-saturated to ghostly. The transitions between the two media are practically seamless; surface and background become almost indistinguishable. This conflation, regardless of what media combination the artist uses, makes for ethereal works: complex, delicate and slow in their unfolding.
Unlike many contemporary artists, Bovenzi does not use collage to create disjunctions; she uses it to achieve pictorial unity. Collage for her is simply a way of composing, one the SF artist has maintained across several bodies of work prior to this. While it’s tempting to cite field and stain painting and gestural abstraction as influences, Bovenzi points to other, less-obvious sources: 10th century illuminated Spanish manuscripts depicting the apocalypse; Navajo sand paintings; Huichol yarn and bead works; Byzantine icons and mosaics; and Romanesque frescoes.
The Bluest Eye, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24"
These influences aren’t manifest literally. They’re spiritual aids that enable the artist to inhabit a pre-modern mindset, one in which she can view her own apocalyptic concerns in a larger historical context. They center, appropriately, on nature. Pervasive wing shapes, for example, invite comparison to the insects and birds seen at the artist’s Colorado summer home; the hovering, all-seeing eyes to those found in tribal art, Symbolism and Surrealism. There are many fine example of each. My favorites, among the former, are those that abstractly portray dragonflies a way that makes them ambiguous enough to also be read as angels, a longstanding subject of Bovenzi’s. Of the eye paintings, The Bluest Eye, a vertically arrayed group of floating orbs, and Don’t Blink, which positions two eyes, side-by-side, stand out.
Bovenzi sees her role as a witness. “As a citizen of the twenty-first century,” she writes in the show’s catalog, “I am as concerned with the imbalance of the present moment as the medieval churchmen were with theirs…The eyes in these paintings hint at this implacability in nature, its sheer, relentless persistence and its beauty, no matter what we humans might do.”
–DAVID M. ROTH