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Ruby Neri and Carter @ Paule Anglim

Neri: Party People, 2015, oil on canvas over panel 48” x 42”

With Paule Anglim’s death earlier this month, it seems fitting that the two shows on view at her eponymous gallery should feature Ruby Neri and Carter.  Both embody her wide-ranging tastes, unerring eye and penchant for risk-taking.  Starting in the early 1970’s, Anglim discovered and championed some of the most important art being made in the Bay Area.  And though the gallery now shows artists of national and international stature, its bedrock has always been local innovators, chief among them Jess, Joan Brown, David Ireland and Nayland Blake. 

Neri’s and Carter’s achievements, while not in the same league as, say, Ireland’s, are nevertheless significant.  Carter, after earning an MFA at U.C. Davis, was included in the gallery’s 1997 Introductions show, and has since shown at the Tate Modern, Museum of Modern Art, Max Mayer Gallery in Dusseldorf and the 2006 Whitney Biennial.  Neri, the daughter of famed sculptor Manuel Neri, was first recognized in YBCA’s Bay Area Now exhibition in 1997, co-curated by Renny Pritikin.  Together, with Barry McGee, Alicia McCarthy, Margaret Kilgallen (1967-2001), Chris Johanson and Clare Rojas, she became closely aligned with the gritty, vernacular, street-smart Mission School.  Noteworthy, too, was her appearance the Hammer Museum’s groundbreaking Made in LA exhibit in 2012.  
The 18 pieces that comprise Neri’s show, The Big Feel, demonstrate how she’s evolved from those roots.  Graffiti, once her calling card, has given way to a deep engagement with the West Coast Figurative tradition, that of Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Brown and Viola Frey.  While the show branches into sculpture and a large tableaux, it’s four large paintings — Photo of Women, Woman with a Doll, Figures

Neri: Woman with Children, 2014, oil on paper, 14 x 20"


with a Horse, and Party People — that amplify Neri’s searching painterly touch.  The loaded surfaces, the pilings of pigment turned into slices of brushwork, and the abrupt scrawls reveal sustained feeling and raw expressivity: unmediated experience shorn of irony. “All of my work is directly tied into me,” Neri recently told the Chronicle’s Kimberley Chun.  “These are things I return to: power plays between figures, daily struggles, or highly emotional relationships.” 

The loose, drawling brushstrokes of six medium-sized works on paper demonstrate; they coalesce in figurative scenarios of play, dream states and social dynamics, bringing to mind, with their expressivity and flowing gestures, Oscar Kokoschka and Emile Nolde.  Forgoing the jewel tones of the paintings, these intimate works murmur in a tough Tuymans-esque palette of muddy grays and greens, stopping just short of sedimentary muck.  In these she sticks only to what’s necessary, and in that there is great appeal.  

Neri’s sculpture — a mix of crudely modeled figures, clunky domestic objects, platters, picture frames and hats – doesn’t fare as well.  Breezy and colorful, it contains little of the urgency that surges through the paintings.  The one exception is Big Head with Blue Eyes.  A figure evocative of the Easter Island moai, its hulking head seems alternately human and animal, fully in command of the space it inhabits.

Carter: Four, 2015, mixed media on paper, 24 x 21"

Carter, a New York-based artist best known for his film, Erasing James Franco, shows 12 untitled drawings in the intimate space of the gallery’s small salon. A skillful pastiche of inked lines, cut out plops of paint, schematic studies (that could have been pulled straight from academic texts like Drawing the Human Head), and geometric vignettes, the work is a rich collection of signs — of identity, graphic style, culture and learning.  They circulate and comingle in layered constellations.  The studied detachment with which Carter organizes this material might calcify the work into sheets of faux scientific discourse were it not for his finely calibrated sensitivity to materials. Punching holes into papers, he pastes cutout drops of paint onto passages of delicately rubbed and blurred blue colored pencil.  He also constructs thickets of lightly drawn pencil lines, like pick-up sticks, that provide an architectonic context to myriad geometric musings.  By masterfully organizing these elements, Carter takes what in less capable hands could look like taxonomic studies, and gives it a lyrical charge.   That dichotomy, between the studied and the lyrical, is what gives his work richness. 

Ruby Neri: “The Big Feel” and Carter: “Twelve Drawings” @ Gallery Paule Anglim through May 2, 2015. 

About the Author:
Julia Couzens is a Sacramento-based artist and writer whose work has been widely shown, most recently at the di Rosa Preserve.  Her drawings and hybrid objects are in museum and public collections throughout the U.S.  These include the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts; Berkeley Art Museum; Oakland Museum; Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina; and Yale University.  She lives and works on Merritt Island in the Sacramento River delta.

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