Robert Larson: Peace, Love and Camels


by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

San Jose, California, Spring 2007

One of the most consistently sophisticated venues for viewing strong San Jose artists, mixed with occasional talent from San Francisco or Oakland, is the somewhat unlikely site of the Heritage Bank. In gallery-starved San Jose, it is not surprising that artists and curators are willing to show art in unconventional spaces. The surprise is that -surrounded by file cabinets and bank furniture – Jane Salvin’s shows totally transcend what one might imagine to be limiting. Utilizing the lobby, large conference rooms and smaller offices that have glass enclosures, and walls that appear to have been saved specifically for hanging larger art works throughout the bank, Salvin manages to give each of her artists spaces that showcase their work in series. Viewers can get, even in the case of artists who work large, a sense of an artist’s style through clusters of work. Her thoughtful installations never feel cramped, nor does the art feel compromised. Further, visitors who come simply to see the art are welcomed by a friendly bank staff, and allowed to wander throughout the facility, even into private offices.

“Obsessive Nature” is the Heritage Bank’s 2006-2007 winter exhibition of 100 works of art. We can say that artists are nearly always obsessive by nature, yet the title seems most relevant in this case to the works of Robert Larson, Charlotte Kruk, Chris Eckert, Kara Maria, Kathryn Dunleavie and Anne Healey. Full of small details, repetitive elements and painstaking craftsmanship, there is richness in their work, and above all, obsessiveness.

Two large works by Robert Larson are seen in the lobby. Peace, Love and Camels is 104 inches high and consists of thousands of discarded Camel matchbooks lined up side-by-side, row upon row, and mounted on linen. It is a weave of colorful little swatches of primary color in varied states of abuse and age that manage to transcend the unforgettably ugly nature of detritus from cigarette smoking. It is conceptually whimsical and intriguingly handsome on the formal level.

Robert Larson: Untitled Collage (Marlboro)

Another direction by Larson is seen in more intellectual works like Witness, where the white faces of plain matchbooks or the white tops of Marlboro boxes – the red printed layer mostly worn away, as it might be found in a wet gutter – are lined up in rows, with very little color introduced. Here one must engage the tiny details and variables of a nearly white, gridded surface. In some cases, a pattern of isolated red-print box tops interrupts the white field. Residue of the smoking habit, yes, but these works are basically formal.

In this exhibition, Larson’s digital prints, made from the original works mounted onto linen, are also shown. They are absolutely true in color, life size, and almost fool the eye into thinking they are three-dimensional.

Charlotte Kruk is a San Jose artist who has delighted us with her fashions made of hundreds of candy wrappers for years. Kruk collects innumerable wrappers and labels from a single sweet source, and defying the logic of consuming candy and modeling elegant fashions at the same time, she obsessively sews them all together and creates an astounding garment or gown. At some exhibitions, delicious young artist-friends whose lovely figures seem untouched by eating excesses, have modeled them.


Charlotte Kruk: Matador (left) and Peach Nectar (back view)

In Obsessive Nature, Kruk introduces four new designs. Peach Nectar is a sleeveless spring dress with full skirt, made of Flagstaff peach nectar box labels, ornamented with real peach pits, a ruffle of canned cling peach labels down the back, and presented on a black poodle-like fur dress form. This dress is a link to earlier Charlotte Kruk creations. Her See’s Worker B uniform has all the polite white sterility of a See’s Candy shop, yet it is made of See’s milk-chocolate-with-almonds packaging and gold lam√© piping. In Diva, Diva, Godiva, Kruk plays with legend and creates a long slim coat in chocolate tones that inadequately covers the form beneath. The design utilizes the thin membrane inside a Lady Godiva box of chocolates alternating with fake fur, assembled in a royal diamond pattern. Ornamentations are Godiva ribbons and heavy fake jewels. Kruk’s tour de force in this show is probably her glittering matador’s Traje de Luces, made of M&M wrappers, multiple fabrics, beads, sequins and porcelain.

Charlotte Kruk: Diva, Diva, Godiva (left), See’s Worker B (center) and Peach Nectar

Anne Healey’s “paintings” are actually mixed media relief works that have no paint in them at all. They are startlingly beautiful and odd. The backgrounds of these small, framed works are embroidered semi-abstract landscapes. Floating in the foreground on a light scrim are exquisitely embroidered, exotic flower shapes made from embroidery yarn, sequins, beads, pearls and soft yarn or cord. The frames ironically contradict the illusions of deep space and references to sublime mother nature by revealing the wooden stretcher with crude nails that supports the scrim, or by a frame of heavy steel that seems intended to suppress the airy landscape. The series says a lot about traditions in Western painting, and the feminist struggle for recognition in that context.

Chris Eckert: Auto Masochist

Chris Eckert is an artist whose sculptural creations – often electronic or kinetic – amuse and intrigue us. Auto Masochist is a device that looks something like the original Singer sewing machine, with a cast black body, and silver and gold ornamentation and old fashioned lettering. Its mechanized dagger hangs over a wooden platform with a depression where the human hand will fit. The viewer is invited to participate and bravely assume that the stabbing gesture of the Masochist will only circumnavigate his hand. In Hand with Rock, Eckert’s perfectly molded and colored synthetic hand emerges from the wall, palm up, clutching a real black rock that is cracked through the center, begging a question of brute strength.

Kara Maria: Pattern

Explosions, vapor trails, zigzag paths, dot patterns, swirls and stripes in a celebration of pop action scenes are the staples of Kara Maria’s vibrant paintings. Into these woven layers of space, she occasionally introduces more concrete actors such as birds, fruit or jet aircraft. Works like Flowers for a Crow or Almost Paradise revive all the consummate rendering of the pop iconography of Roy Lichstenstein, with Kara Maria’s own energized color sense. These paintings may be reliving a comic book event or be a response to the character and pace of history in our times. Certainly their intense plastic colors and the complexity of the imagery are frenetic and breathtaking.


Kara Maria: Flowers for a Crow (left), Almost Paradise

Kathryn Dunlevie has developed a technique of collaging photographs to canvas that requires, in varying degrees, a seamless merging of painted and photographic imagery. In Obsessive Nature, her paintings play with photographic repetitions of architectural elements that frequently become flat and pattern-like, contrasted with glimpses of deeper space such as an interior patio with ornamented columns, or – as in Eiffel Tower Tennis (study) a manicured green field that is doubled up in mirror image, and seen beyond the web of trusses of the Eiffel Tower. The result of the careful selection of particularly enchanting sites and these repetitions and juxtapositions, is a magical world, sometimes resembling the vivid view through a kaleidoscope. Dunlevie’s Au Bon March√© is one of the most obsessive and fanciful. Here many repetitions of a lacy balcony in a Paris department store, viewed from below, are repeated to become a giant web of scallops against the soft focus warm field that is the ceiling above it.

Kathryn Dunlevie: Eiffle Tower Tennis

Also seen in Obsessive Nature are interesting works by Sharon Chinen, Richard Karson, Terry Kreiter and Chris Alexander.

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