Neo Mod: Recent Northern California Abstraction
November 20, 2004 – January 30, 2005
Neo Mod: Recent Northern California Abstraction surveys current work by 34 artists representing the exciting breadth of new abstraction presently illuminating the regional art scene. Works respond to influences omnipresent in the cultural and social milieu of Northern California—computer technology, consumer consumption and nature's abundance—referenced through multiple mediums.
Much of this new work is large, brash and tends toward a cool, urban aesthetic with a design-oriented edge. Its high-keyed, retinal style and complex organization distinguish it from more familiar modes. The sensuous surfaces, richly applied materials, and dynamic colors in these works present updated takes on centuries-old techniques, and in several instances, synthesize the newest in computer-generated design with venerated traditional practices. A spirit of innovation and co-option pervades the cumulative results.
Many artists in this exhibition share a profound appreciation for mid-century design, its functional forms and textile patterns. The "mod" product often evoked, has definitely been in the air for Oakland-based artist Aaron Petersen. "It's more than IKEA," Petersen explains. "IKEA just happened to profitably tap into the spirit." San Francisco artist Rex Ray, who collects vintage examples of furniture and decorative items from the 1950s and 1960s, agrees. Inspiration for the biomorphic, fanciful shapes in his collages often results from this passion for color and decorative form. "I love beautiful things and creating beautiful things. These forms are my idea of beauty."
But for Ray and others such as Amy Ellingson, this mod bent is not about recycling past fashion. The rapid increase in the power and ease of computer-based design tools has opened up abstraction to new inquiries. While many artists have embraced digital as the sole basis for their art, creating web-only projects or IRIS prints, Ellingson and Ray are among the many combining the new with the old, altering and transforming computer-generated imagery into forms and patterns that are painted or collaged entirely by hand. Ellingson painstakingly works in encaustic to build layer upon layer of pulsating line work, resulting in exhilarating optical plays upon vision and the viewer's reading of depth. Her aim is to dissect the accelerated pace at which visual material is created and consumed.
In other works, the relation between technological imagery and art does not appear in the melding of the two processes by the artist. Rather the work responds to an environment in which discussion of technology and consumption of designed products has been voracious. Griff Williams synthesized his concern for color and form with product-oriented taste by finishing individual layers of acrylic paint with resin, lending his finished panels the preciousness and allure evocative of cell phones and PDA screens. Sacramento artist Brenda Louie references binary code's ones and zeros as a metaphor for time as well as for the creative process itself, while the byte treatment in Mark Emerson's Let Me Know (2004) speaks to the digital shifting of color pixels on a screen.
The tendency to exploit pattern and strong geometries seen in the exhibition also owes a debt to the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement, which sought to break abstraction free from the strict formal rhetoric of Minimalism. Present affinities have less to do with feminism, but have much to say about global cultural exchange in the digital age. Jamie Brunson, Amanda Haas, Darren Waterston, Lori Del Mar, Reed Dazinger and Kirsten Stolle create elegant motifs with freely morphed and repeated forms. These works are evocative and often allude to nature as much as to pattern. "It's hard to find a form that resists reading," says Nellie King Solomon about her work, which breaks out this decorative aspect in a grand manner by using pooled ink on large Mylar surfaces.
The exhibition surveys current work by more than 30 artists. Among those featured are Linda Meiko Allen, Rick Arnitz, John Belingheri, Jamie Brunson, Laura Corallo Titus, Reed Danzinger, Lori del Mar, Richard Duning, Amy Ellingson, Abraham Elterman, Mark Emerson, Judith Foosaner, Stephen Giannetti, Doug Glovaski, Amanda Haas, Mike Henderson, Amy Kaufman, Lynn Klein, Brenda Louie, Aaron Petersen, Rex Ray, Fred Slautterback, Jessica Snow, Nellie King Solomon, Peter Stegall, Kirsten Stolle, Ellen van Fleet, Darren Waterston, Stephanie Weber, David Wetzl, Griff Williams and Christopher Winfield.