Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thumbnail:Allison Renshaw

Painter Allison Renshaw's work was recently exhibited in the "Here Not There", exhibition at the MCASD in La Jolla, California. "Here Not There" was a mash up more than fifty San Diego Artists, emerging and submerging through the galleries, hallways, terraces,vestibules, nooks and crannies of San Diego's oldest Museum devoted to contemporary art.

American artist Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) famously quipped that “Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting". Indeed as I was backing up to try to get a gander at one of Ms. Renshaw's large mixed media works, I just about knocked over one of Jeff Irwin's white ceramic animals on a pedestal! Her work needed much more viewing space than was provided, and Jeff's animals needed free range.

Sugar Kisses 48 x 96, 2010

No Painting when the surf's up.

On a recent visit to Alison's wonderland studio above Moonlight Beach in Encinitas,California we discussed the local arts scene, art-geek technical problems, surf culture, teaching and problems with painting

Playing e-mail tag, trying to set up a studio visit, one of her responses was that she was in the studio most Mondays and Wednesdays, unless the surf was up. I thought, now here is a woman with priorities! Being a devoted surfer, mother of a two year old, partner with her husband in a speculative
green housing business, AND painter is a full time balancing act.

All Action

Writing for Artnews in 1952, American arts critic Harold Rosenberg
coined the term "American Action Painters". What he recognized in the paintings being made at that time by artists Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Willem DeKooning, Philip Guston, Lee Krasner et all, was the "struggle" to make the work, and the painting was a residue of that action and struggle.

When I mentioned the affinity of her work to the action painter's, Allison remarked, that early in her master's work at The Maryland Institute College of Art, that her work was heavily influenced by the spattering, dripping and general lashing out at the canvas of the masters of splash and dash. She dropped that work, for a pursuit of a more "benign" abstraction. That body of work began to sell well. Looking at some pieces from that period, they are painterly, tasteful and unremarkable. Although she cannot recall exactly the "a-hah!" moment, that would lead to the current body of work, she does acknowledge the new urgency in the work, that was also in her previous explorations of action painting.

Cool Pop

What sets this work apart from the modernist AB EX painters, is the inclusion of popular culture in the form of collaged imagery. Cut from fashion, sports and surf magazines, and pasted onto the painted surface, these bits of our material culture, serve as anchor points for explosions of color washes, fluorescent spray dots, and anime-esque line , creating a "wipeout" of formal invention.

Viewing the larger works from a distance, space is compressed into a seemingly shallow wading pool of color, texture and form. It is not until you get close to the work, that individual areas begin to open up into vast oceans and endless panoramas, each area moving seamlessly from
one to another. One begins to understand these as contemporary seascape painting,albeit free from nostalgia or romanticism, and complete with a pollution of material detritus.

Can you say Pthalocyanine?

The color palette of Ms. Renshaw's works is decidedly acidic and cool. This is result of the use of a dominance of Pthalo blues and Pthalo greens. Discovered in the early twentieth century and commercially available as pigments in the late 1950's. these metallic complex pigments range in hue from green shade blues to red shade blue, and even some cool reds. The impact of this cool, industrial palette is significant, in that it helps disengage Ms.Renshaw's work from any sentimentality about painting, seascapes or the world we live in.

Odyssey. 48" x 96". 2010

Allison Renshaw is represented locally by Quint Contemporary Art
and more of her work may be seen at her website:


A Thumbnail C.V. for Allison Renshaw

City of Birth: La Mirada, California

Cities / Countries where you have lived: Fullerton, Malibu, Heidelberg Germany, Oakland, Baltimore, Snowmass Village, Cardiff, Leucadia

Education: BA Economics, Pepperdine University; MFA Maryland Institute College of Art

Years in San Diego: 14

Recent Projects / Exhibitions: “Plastic Fantastic,” solo exhibition at the Oceanside Museum of Art, “Here Not There,” Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, “Paper Works,” Eric Phleger Gallery

Current projects / Upcoming Exhibitions: Sierra Nevada College, exhibition and visiting artist in January 2011

Public / Private Collections: Irish Anglo Bank; Oceanside Museum of Art; Forward Ventures; Dolgen Ventures; Ballard, Spahr, Andrews, & Ingersoll, Piper/Marbury;

Awards / Honors: Nominated for the San Diego Art Prize 2010; Bemis Center Artist Residency, 2000; Anderson Ranch Arts Center Residency 2003, 2005, 2006.

Professional affiliations (Universities, Colleges, Museums, etc

Associate professor at MiraCosta College

Gallery Representation: Quint Contemporary Art in La Jolla

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thumbnail:Chelsea Herman

Alrighty boys and girls, girls and girls,boys and boys! Hands above the table,smart phones on and minds open. Today we are going to look at the work of a young graduate student in the School of Art,Design and Art History at San Diego State University, Ms.Chelsea Herman.
Her work will be shown in the upcoming exhibition at the Oceanside Museum of Art, Into the Light:SDSU Graduate artists. Included in the exhibition are five of her colleagues, Jim Cavolt, Rizzhel Mae Javier, Alexis Archibald, Kyleen Jeans and Christina Updegraff. The exhibition opens November 20th at 2pm, starting with panel discussion led by the graduate adviser for Art, David Hewitt.

As a lecturer in Art at SDSU, I occasionally have the opportunity to meet with, critique and talk about contemporary art with current graduate students. Ms Hermans and I managed to carve out one and a half hours in our schedules to talk specifically about her work and her short time at SDSU. I will attempt to paraphrase our wide ranging discussion.

Seep Spring. 94"x 88".
watercolor crayon, ink,charcoal,graphite and oil on paper 2010

Growing up along the rugged, rural central coast region of Santa Cruz ,California, Chelsea favored long walks and horseback riding into remote coastal chaparral and native forests of the region. Enthralled with the mystery of nature, and the natural environment, Chelsea relies on her memory of these places, rather than a photographic image, as a touch stone for her picture making.

"Seep Spring" completed in 2010, and exhibited in the Oceanside Museum show, is a large scale work on paper, that evokes the quality of "land" without the specific grounding of a "landscape". Lacking any discernible horizon line, the viewer can shift points of view from birds eye perspective to worms eye in a Santa Cruz minute. Figure and Ground, Positive and Negative, shift and build tension, creating a composition that relies more on perceptual faith to hold it together than any adherence to well balanced formal aesthetics. The slippage here is not Tectonic, but it is an occult slipping and sliding of potentially catastrophic compositional consequences.

Blind Creek. app. 45" x 204". Mixed Media. 2010

Blind Creek is another very large scale mixed media piece, employing memories of land or geologic formations. The large scale format and presentation without picture frame or glass, bring the viewer into the atmosphere of the two dimensional construction. After talking with Ms. Herman, this seems important not only for the obvious reason of engaging the audience through immediacy, but also referencing the intimacy, we as humans have lost with the natural environment. Any contrived separation of viewer and the picture at hand, would only enforce that estrangement.

Read Fields. Handmade book. 2010

Books are another significant output of Ms. Herman. Utilizing a variety of print processes and then working back into the final print with additional media, such as charcoals and ink, these small scale objects, allow for an even closer reading of seemingly geological processes.

When I queried Chelsea about that lack of color in the large works and books, she looked at me rather quizzically and said "But there is color". Upon closer inspections, I could see extremely subtle uses uses of what could only be called stains. These stains of "color" are perceived more as temperature change, rather than hue difference. The abstraction from nature and the proposition of a human disconnect form the natural environment, is supported by this removal of color information.

Painters have a tough row to hoe in these days of their proclaimed postmortem. Although not strictly a painter, Ms. Herman is taking on many of the visual and conceptual problems associated with two dimensional fine art. Each "painter" must believe that they are somehow contributing to a new discourse on picture making, or otherwise they would be doomed repeating the same conversation as their predecessors. Certainly there is a yearning and earnestness in Chelseas work, after just a year in graduate school. I look forward to more conversations with her as she ploughs landscape of painting.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Change we can't see coming

Shepard Fairey is riding the biggest wave of his career. He's instantly become a major league slugger, with his famous "Hope" poster of our newly crowned prince, Barack Obama. The only problem is that the commissioners of "fair use" (AP) are coming after him for copy right infringement and Mister Fairey is paddling furiously to stay one step ahead of that curveball.

At the most base level, the argument is about who owns the admittedly goofy image of our President, and should some sort of compensation be rendered to the owner for any further publication of that image. The lawyers may be arguing the balls and strikes of this case for some time, and the courts will eventually make some sort of call. Shepard Fairey will be either out or safe, but his home run may be forever tainted.

From the nosebleed seats, the argument is about something else entirely different
What is really at stake here is not the almighty dollar, its really about the integrity of art making, culture, American and Western Culture.

Appropriation of images has been in the art making dugout for a very long time. This is nothing new to the game. We learned, in the culture wars of the 80's that ones man's sacred chalice is another man's urinal. What happens ,for better or for worse, is that when an image is appropriated or co opted, meaning can change abruptly.

Should we be worried about the integrity of art making? Is that even a valid past post-modern construct? Given the plethora of images available at a keystroke today, does creative image making need to be concerned with the "original" , the immaculate concept, or the archetype?

If the answer is "yes", to all of the above, then what does that say about our current "State of the Art". Its not to say that the appropriated image , could not be at the service of ART, it can. The problem arises when the vast majority of image making is from recycled tidbits. The reshuffling, recycling and replaying, begins to de-volve into a centralized , mediocre media morass.

If the answer is "No" to all the above, then we can gleefully keep making work that will probably
allow us to aquire our fair share of the economic stimulus package, and we can do away with Mac Arthur Grants.

My friend, the ceramicist Jeff Irwin and I shared a studio for several years. We often made reference to the "Aesthetics of Laziness" when we were studio partners. We would goad each other into making the hard decisions, not settling for the easy button, working out difficult visual problems. I understand now years later, how as artists we struggle to leave the magnetic pull of the magma of medicocrity.

Connected to the hip of the Aesthetic of Laziness is his twin brother the Aesthetics of Convenience. These twins suckle at the breast of consumerism, and cannot taste the milk, becasue it is now so bland as to be unrecognizable.

So back to our friend Mister Fairey. If he indeed has committed a crime, is it against AP?
Or is he just the hapless leading man in a much larger narrative, that we can only begin to see unfold. At the end of the day, or the Century, will the famous "Hope" portrait be hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, with an asterik, to a footnote, apologizing for being the beginning of the end?

Sunday Feb. 15th Post script,
I woke up this morning and Bob Pincus of the San Diego Union weighs in on this, albeit more optimistically

Sunday, February 1, 2009


BLDNG #6 (alternative view)
36"h x 75"w x 1"d
Color Duct tape on enameled hardboard
David Fobes 2008

My first experiments in color mixing began in second grade. On a cold, wintry gray Maryland afternoon, I stole my way to the under window heat radiator and “accidentally” dropped broken bits of crayola, down through the grate and onto the hot metal a few inches below. Within minutes my yellow and blue had merged and miraculously made green! This led to more experimentation with every color, until there was a molten mess of brownish wax, which started to burn and smell. I was detained after to school, to think about what I had done. My conclusion after much reflection; Yellow and Blue make green, Yellow and Red make orange, Red and Blue make purple. This was an epiphany.

Another very early emotional association I have with color is flying box kites with my father and brothers. We would run the kites on brisk, bright fall or spring days. There was the excitement of the kite lifting off, and then the visual thrill of the bright colored geometric figure against a brilliant blue sky.

These are idyllic images, seemingly from another lifetime. My world, our world today, has lost much of the colored optimism I once knew. I would use the tired analogy of a world transformed into shades of gray, except that our government and corporate America are now painting the world green. Green is the new gray.
In 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland security, issued a National terror alert on its website (www.nationalterroralert.com/saferoom/) The alert explains how to create a “safe room” in your home from biological agents, using duct tape as a first line of defense. That alert became the butt of late night comedians jokes, and forever changed the cultural consciousness about the sticky, silver gray tape.

Ironically (coincidentally?), a new duct tape craft phenomenon has been gaining ground in the year’s post 9/11, particularly among youths. Duct tape wallets, Duct tape purses, duct tape belts and duct tape Haute Couture. There is now a national competition for duct tape prom wear! The upside is a new abundance of colored tapes on the market. Silver gray is “so yesterday.”
My awareness of these new duct tape colors, the post 9/11 the collective consciousness and a corresponding movement of my own furniture design toward more and more two dimensional results, has coalesced into this current body of work. The optimism of these two dimensionally based illusions and the seduction of the material qualities, are undermined by the nagging reference to current world affairs, brought on by the unfortunate semiotic baggage of duct tape.

“Chromantic” is a word I have constructed, fabricated from the words chrome (color) and mantic, the ability to “see” or be prophetic or visionary. Much like the visions elucidated by a clairvoyant, they are not whole, they are missing bits of information, or the information itself may be ambiguous. Meaning in either context can be misinterpreted, misunderstood or misleading, but makes the experience no less meaningful.

David Fobes
September 2008

Link to Chromantic Exhibition, SimaySpace Gallery, Sept-Oct. 2008