Ask Dean DeCocker about the origins of his art and he’ll tell you a story. It involves sitting in the cockpit of WWII-era plane and being overcome by a feeling that he’d been there before. Not as a tourist of military history, but as a combatant. DeCocker, a professor of art at CSU Stanislaus who grew up in the shadow of Southern California’s military-industrial complex, isn’t the type to indulge in easy mysticism. Nevertheless, he took this bit of déjà vu to heart, and in the decades since earning an MFA at Claremont Graduate School in 1989, he's created a rich oeuvre of sculpture and drawing built around the iconography of flight. Much of it carries titles (e.g. The Flying Tigers, Strategic Objectives, The Pitching Deck) having to do with battles in the Pacific. From that you might conclude that his art is about war. If so, he edits out the gruesome consequences. What we see looks like an aeronautical reimagining of Finish Fetish, only instead of glorifying automobile aesthetics, DeCocker turns wings, fuselages, steel armatures, exhaust pipes, jet streams and clouds into objects of desire.
By contrast, his partner in this show, Peter Wayne Lewis, a Jamaica-born artist who divides his time between Boston and Beijing, is nothing if not emotive. His works on paper and canvas overflow with painterly intent and biological references, evincing the look of swarming microscopic universes into which the artist has entered with a loaded paintbrush. Lewis wields it in a variety of ways, ranging from judicious to effusive. The paper works — vertical scrolls mounted on linen in the manner Asian watercolors — fall squarely into the first category. They’re populated by pale stains and splotches and deft, serpentine gestures surrounded by lots of white space. They’re displayed in trios and quartets, allowing the collectives to project greater punch than would individual pieces. Canvases he treats differently; they stand alone, brightly colored and densely packed, with imagery hewing closer to things we know: stems, blossoms, branches, petals, seed pods and stamen. Unlike the paper works, which are identified only by number, these carry a series moniker, Buddha Plays Monk, a nod to Lewis’ interests in jazz and Eastern religion. Granted, the connection between jazz and abstract painting has become a cliché, but in Lewis’ case it’s apt because everything he does is created spontaneously, in a single take without revisions or erasures. Thus, gaps in his numbering system don’t necessarily correspond to missing paintings; they’re works he’s discarded. His intention — that each mark be perceived as a move made in reaction to what came before — is exactly what’s communicated. While his canvases can sometimes verge on prettiness, the energy given off is invigorating and unmistakably that of art created in the moment.