Inside this elegantly refurbished 19th century firehouse-cum-art gallery, three of the Bay Area's most celebrated artists unite in what is arguably one the strongest painting shows to the the Capital City in recent memory. Their dissimilar, intensely personal and sometimes eccentric works demonstrate a range of approaches, each corresponding to different experiences, concerns and worldviews.
Katherine Sherwood’s paintings are about corporeality. They frequently include photolithographic transfers of brain scans (her own) and illustrations from medical texts mixed with ancient symbols. Here, the symbols are gone, as are the cracked paint pours that were once her trademark. They’re replaced by thin washes, quiet colors, repeated patterns and contour drawing, which she uses to delineate figures (also her own). The results are three outsized odalisques in which brain scans stand in for faces and illustrations of brain matter — painted and collaged — adorn the heads, Medusa-like. From an artist whose medical history informs her every move, this coupling of scientific fact and sexual posturing makes for delicious black humor: the artist staring down death as a nude with disabilities: a leg brace in one painting, a crutch in another.
Hung Liu — fresh off a 40-year retrospective at the Oakland Museum – debuts a series of small-scale portraits and still lifes based on some of the same historic photos that have served as source material for earlier paintings. Here, they’re reworked with a process called Za Zhong, which means hybrid. It involves coating a digital print with alternating layers of pigment and resin to produce effects akin to a stereoscopic photograph or a relief sculpture viewed through glass. Earlier large-scale works made this way were most notable for their glistening sheen; these, on account of their scale and placement in a narrow corridor, feel intimate. For Liu, a history painter who grapples with memory, this approach feels like the perfect counterbalance to her better-known drip paintings, which obscure almost as much of her subjects as they reveal. These, in contrast, have an almost pristine clarity. They center on classical and modern Chinese themes.
Squeak Carnwath’s paintings map her own consciousness. Each is a foray into the ineffable populated by patterns, words, geometric shapes, letters, household objects, numbers, taxonomic grids and text — all of which she renders in a faux-naif mode. The essential revelation Carnwath brings to painting is this: Beneath the armor of adulthood, everyone is a child, and she uses that conviction to display her innermost thoughts, sifting life’s mysteries by placing into her paintings things designed to trigger emotions of every sort. Her works are both vernacular and esoteric.