Three Southern California painters who exemplify the current decade's return to figurative art are joined in a show at the Southwestern College Art Gallery (900 Otay Lakes Road) through Dec. 9.
David Baze and Leo Robinson devote their attention primarily to the human figure and its capacity for expressive gesture. Baze isolates figures against muted gray spaces, sparing of physical context but rich in psychological and emotional atmosphere.
The subjects are individuals, identified by name, but their gestures, suspended in the timeless space of the paintings, describe conditions--hesitation, confusion, anguish, exhilaration--more than particular identities. A plate of food appears in one work, a television set in another, both serving as props in the shallow, theatrical stages of Baze's paintings. Although associating figures with objects implies narrative or symbolic content, Baze's work avoids specificity of meaning, instead leaving poignant but mysterious impressions.
Several of Robinson's paintings relate to Baze's in their emphasis on gesture--both the physical gesture of the subject and the painterly gesture of the artist. But where Baze's images resemble frozen dramas, Robinson's evoke short stories, involving the passage of time and the interaction of characters. Monkeys and masks appear as alter egos in many of the works, and relations between the sexes figures as a recurring theme.
In "Rendezvous," a mannequin-like man stands stiffly in a garden of agitated foliage. A woman approaches him on one side, and seemingly the same character retreats on the other side. Whether charged with intrigue, as here, imbued with melancholy or tinged with satire, Robinson's paintings deal vigorously and imaginatively with issues of communication and confrontation.
Carol Furr is represented by a series of loosely brushed landscapes. The more straightforward of these, representing scenes from Taiwan, France and Yosemite, are hardly more than painted post-card views. Two Sierra Nevada scenes in which rock shadows and crevices double as implications of bodily shapes are refreshingly ambiguous next to her more predictable work, but these too verge on triteness.
Recent paintings by Michiel Daniel at the James Crumley Gallery at MiraCosta College in Oceanside demonstrate the artist's extraordinary command over the unforgiving medium of watercolor. Daniel paints in a highly illusionistic fashion, rendering an assortment of objects and views convincingly tangible, complete with dimensionality and cast shadows. Yet Daniel undermines the orderly, objective quality of his technique with imagery of surreal and socially critical content.
In "Red Balance," for instance, seven red-tailed darts float in formation across a dusky sky. The darts, though somewhat comic, mundane objects, here evoke a hauntingly militaristic presence. Painting the darts red and showing them moving from east to west further encourages a political reading of the image.
Daniel's anti-militarism surfaces again in "Modern Macho," a still life of various tools of power and play viewed from above as if actually resting on the paper. Nestled into this grouping of sticks, stones, bones and colored balls are two metal missiles, power toys of the modern age. Daniel's overlapping of the simple and the sophisticated reveals a dry irony concerning the absurdity of modern war games.
However literal and concrete his imagery, Daniel's compositions tend to be cryptic. Toy soldiers, rubber darts and the aforementioned missiles evoke a theme of anti-violence, but marbles sitting on painted seascapes are substantially more ambiguous.
Daniel, who works and teaches in Long Beach, seems to relish disjunctive combinations and points of view, while presenting them in a highly controlled, deceptively rational package. His paintings, at once playful and quietly ominous, are captivating.
The show continues through Dec. 10.
Louise Kirtland, director of the Boehm Gallery at Palomar College (1140 W. Mission Road), recently scoured the studios of local graduate students and recent graduates in the fine arts to compile work for the show "MFA/SDSU/UCSD."
What she found, and what viewers of the exhibition will detect as well, is a surprising level of maturity and talent among these emerging artists. Works in the show (through Dec. 10) manifest a broad range of concerns, from the tactile and sensual to the rhetorical and theoretical.
The show is particularly strong in the area of sculpture. Toru Nakatani (UC San Diego) constructs playfully posed figures from modular cubes made of acrylic, paper and wood. Pictographic musings--stick figures, skulls, spiral designs--ramble across the faces of the cubes, imbuing the modern, robot-like forms with primal, expressive energy.