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‘Keepers’ @ Skinner/Howard

Aaron Peterson, "Cradle, 2009, mixed media on wood panels, 48 x 78 inches

Keepers, a group show curated by Bay Area painter Aaron Petersen, brings together painting and sculpture from several contemporary currents of biomorphic and geometric abstraction. The title suggests possession and ownership. It also conveys a self-appointed seal of quality assurance.  But the show itself, of emerging and mid-career artists, carries no such certainties. With a nod and a wink, it traffics in ambiguity and mystery.

Petersen is one of the six artists on view. In the past, his oil-on-aluminum paintings have mixed Chinese landscape imagery, symbolist-like orbs and swirling P&D gestures. They’ve also offered viewers a portal into an alternate reality that stopped just short of pure fantasy. Now, he’s ventured somewhat cautiously into pop surrealism, proffering a universe populated with insects and comet-like forms that orbit around “hives” that seem suspended in space. Their exact domain – sub-aquatic, terrestrial or astral – remains uncertain.   

Vestiges of oozing translucence that once characterized Petersen’s work remain, but they’ve largely been overtaken by swirling shapes and bee-like forms rendered in bold stripes or dots. Where calm once reigned in his Asian-influenced world, a frenzied style of cartoon action now holds sway. Overall, this body of work feels a little like The Jettsons recast in a subtropical environment. “Zap-Pow!” meets Zen.

Lorene Anderson (detail) "Flapper", 2007, cassein, acrylic, ink, mica on panel, 12 x 12 inches

 Lorene Anderson’s small panel pieces, by contrast, seem almost hermetic in their quietude. Their gauzily painted grounds have an ethereal openness and luminosity that suggest the outward trappings of spiritual abstraction; but if you don’t look closely you might easily miss their virtues. The detailed forms that dance on the surfaces of her most intriguing works are practically microscopic.  They range from images that have the chiseled precision of magnified snowflakes to amorphous paint pours that, before running astray, coalesce into shapes that look like chorus lines spelled out in hot wax.  They have a lyricism that sneaks up on you. The smallest of her works, Aglaura, at 5” x 5”, is a revelation. 

Reed Danziger, "Above the 4th", 2008, watercolor, gouache, graphite, silkscreen on paper, 47 x 45 inches
Reed Danziger’s works on paper are perhaps the purest demonstration in this show of the kind of crosspollination between biomorphic and geometric abstraction that seems to be on the rise, from Leslie Shows and Val Britton in the Bay Area to Julie Mehretu and Kristin Baker in New York. Danziger’s watercolors, with their allusions to things natural and man-made, microscopic and macroscopic, seem to unfold kaleidoscopically, in layers. References to molecular forms, shards of stained glass, starbursts, prisms, flowing water, textiles and architectural rubble abound, leading one to the conclusion that she’s sampled the world’s flotsam and jetsam and figured out a way to unite it without inducing claustrophobia. This she does by patterning her forms at different scales, using plenty of open space, both inside and around her compositions.
 
Cynthia Ona Innis, like Danizger, employs natural forms, and like Danizger, she uses them as vehicles to comment on the human condition. Her vision – and her forms – seem closely linked to Terry Winters who, in the ‘80s, diagrammatically painted cellular shapes atop vaporous grounds to investigate the organizing behavior of biological units. Similarly, Innis’ pictures feature thinly painted cocoon-like shapes that sprawl across monochromatic grounds.  Another reoccurring motif are lozenge-like patches that, in her most compelling work, Sow, covers the entire flesh-toned panel in various shapes, colors and textures, including one furry substance that almost begs to be petted. 
 
It’s a fitting segue into the sculptures of Michael McConnell whose faux, life-sized taxidermies – some in bondage, some not – make disquieting statements about human-animal relationships that border on, but never quite cross over into, pointed activism. At once low-brow and kitsch, cuddly and perverse – they have no eyes — they seem at odds with everything else on view. 
Mary Alison Lucas, "Blister", "Sprout", "Thyme", 2009, stoneware clay, finish nails, casting slip, low-fire glaze, varying dimensions
 
Mary Alison Lucas’ gnarly ceramic sculptures are a welcome tonic. Bulbous, chartreuse-colored blobs covered with spiny protuberances whose interior textures resemble those of sea chitons, they connect us to that part of the earth we seldom see: the ocean depths. Sure, we’ve seen forms like these before — in the work of UC Davis professor Annabeth Rosen, who no doubt was a strong influence on Lucas — but in this fish-out-of-water context, they feel fresh, if not radical in their unabashed, muscular biomorphicism.
 
Yes, the show feels a bit crowded; there are 42 works dispersed throughout the gallery. Still, it’s hard to complain about a gathering of this quality. Hats off to Petersen and to Skinner-Howard for making it happen.
–DAVID M. ROTH
 
Keepers through Nov. 1, 2009 at Pamela Skinner/Gwenna Howard Contemporary Art.
 
Cover image: Aaron Petersen (detail), "Catcher", 2008, oil on aluminum, 12 x 72 x 3 inches.  

 

 

One Response to “‘Keepers’ @ Skinner/Howard”

  1. Hello David,
    Just a note to say I’ve really enjoyed reading your reviews-
    so welcome in Sacramento. Also agree with the quality of work being shown at Skinner-Howard this month.
    thanks..!
    Diane

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