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Dean DeCocker & Peter Wayne Lewis @ JayJay

Dean DeCocker, The Banner Triumphant

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.  

In this show, followers will recognize familiar features.  The most notable are small oval shapes strung together in clusters of elongated steel arcs that feel closer to Matisse than to the mechanics of flight.  A suite of five such sculptures, mounted in series on pedestals, and painted alternately black and white, are the exhibit’s centerpiece.  They’re complemented by second series of cardboard cones mounted on glossy steel armatures affixed to a wall.  Measuring a just over a foot in length, they’re smaller than others of this ilk that DeCocker’s exhibited before; yet they continue to fully embody his longstanding themes: velocity, thrust, g-forces, speed and power.  The show also includes photos and diagrams onto which artist has overlaid Baldessarian circles that read as target maps. 
Where DeCocker appears to break new ground is in The Banner Triumphant, a wall-mounted sculpture featuring cones hung by wires from a metal scaffold.  It’s fastened to a black backdrop with a plastic pouch at the bottom containing two cards, each painted with black-and-white stripes, a reference, possibly, to the flags used by signal officers to land planes on aircraft carriers.  Near the top, there’s a shadowy photolithographic image of the kind Rauschenberg might have employed in 1960s.  It’s a seeming non sequitur in this context, but an exciting move nonetheless.  Whether it portends a shift in away from postminimalism toward something more emotive remains to be seen.   
Peter Wayne Lewis, Buddha Plays Monk #7

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.   

Dean DeCocker: “Specific to the Pacific” and Peter Wayne Lewis: “Temporal Paintings” @ JayJay by appointment through February 7, 2015.   

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