BGD’s First Figurative Show is Diverse with Strong Narratives.
By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

At Bill Gould Design in San Jose, the annual bash that brings clients in for an open house and celebrates Bill Gould’s commitment to the visual arts took a new turn with a new exhibition exploring a figurative theme. Wayne Jiang, Lucy Trager, Charlotte Kruk, Katherine Levin Lau and Eugene Rodriguez all approach the figurative with a slightly different focus. Curator Kathryn Funk began with the intense self-portrait montoypes of Katherine Levin-Lau and quickly decided to show a number of other interesting figurative artists, developing the first theme show in the newly expanded office, fabrication and exhibition space.

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Wayne Jiang’s Self Portrait with Plumeria

Wayne Jiang, whose small scale landscapes of lonely, beautifully and somewhat surreally lit urban nightcapes were superb at Heritage Bank, again delights us in this series of figures in lonely, alienated, situations. Jiang seems to find the moment in a larger narrative when every person is alone; sadness is lurking nearby, yet there is poignancy. His figures are introspective, maybe bored, tired, and sleepy, at the point of withdrawal. Painting mostly darkened situations, with artificial light, Jiang painstakingly and beautifully disperses light throughout a room with reflections on glass, upholstery, walls and the light-and-shadow folds of fabric. The rendering of his own figure in a chair, his face and hands, the bookcase, wall and floor in Self Portrait with Plumeria, is wonderfully soft and three-dimensional at the same time, with an unseen light source on the left. The bookcase, filled with the detail of books and papers, and the night scene in the window behind the figure are more fine elements of this painting.

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Sherman’s Wedding, by Wayne Jiang

In Sherman’s Wedding, Jiang has fun with the sea of plates — many orbs with remnants of food on them — the opened Chinese food cartons, empty water glasses, unopened brandy bottles, the shiny upholstery on the chairs, the distracted and sated parents and kids, and increasingly empty tables. It is a swirling sea of ovals retreating into the dark depths of the back of the restaurant. An occasional rectangle and vertical element punctuates. Throughout there are wonderful opportunities for Jiang to really work the paint and insert the highlights he loves. In paintings like Sherman’s Wedding, Scene from a Chinese Restaurant, and Sunday at Oakhill, Jiang takes us further into his vision as a painter — the way he sees light, his love of the material of paint and composition; furthermore, he brings us into events in a Chinese community that are both special and ordinary.

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Eugene Rodriguez’ Paradise

On entering the reception area of Bill Gould Design, a group of figures inhabit the large Eugene Rodriguez painting entitled Paradise. Is it the natural arena of trees and green that constitutes a “paradise”, or is it the social diversity of these men? The individuals in Rodriguez’ paintings are also part of a community, but they occupy spaces that are often disjointed, with inserts and details separating them one from the other and suggesting difficult if not impossible communication. There is a cholo/gangbanger, a zootsuiter, and a couple of everyday vatos – one seems to be a father with a baby bottle, perhaps also a gardener or an office worker or baseball player, but none really in the same space. If Wayne Jiang’s community is at once Chinese and everyday all-American in its activities and appearance, Rodriguez has something to say about diversity and difference. The Latino figures seen in his paintings are part of a great range of individuals he investigates, with each of their life histories, lifestyles, postures and attitudes demanding attention. These paintings are definitely primarily about Latino people, as opposed to paint, light or life in general.

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Blind: Power, Corruption and Lies, by Eugene Rodriguez

In Blind: Power, Corruption and Lies we see a beautiful young contemporary girl, wearing levis and a short white blouse. She is composed and seated patiently on a stool in a darkened room that must be of her parents’ generation. She is not a hostage nor a kidnap victim, not bound, but she is blindfolded. What she cannot see, what she will not see is part and parcel of her circumscribed life style; otherwise, she would remove the blindfold. The cultural isolation of women, protected almost as property in some cultures and immigrant communities, comes to mind. The willful blindness of the privileged and powerful, and their families, is undoubtedly also the subject of this moving painting that seems to address the great economic and social divides of Latino countries.

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And La Banda Played On, by Eugene Rodriguez

In And La Banda Played On, Rodriguez presents a range of figures that appear in other paintings as well: the mariachi, the aged and perhaps a bit crazed gang banger (Is he that and a vet, as well?), the ubiquitous itinerant musicians, the flower sellers, the couples and families enjoying an outdoor picnic. In the background there are some white clad figures in the water, perhaps conducting a baptism. It is about a working class life-style that translates easily from the park and public square in Mexico to parks and public gatherings in Southern California. It is about the many typical working class professions of Mexico that seem to endure. And it seems, as well, to be about individuals that pass each other without quite relating, remaining apart, not unlike many of the figures in the scenes created by Wayne Jiang.

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Lucy Traeger’s Thirst

Lucy Traeger paints single figures. They are, in contrast to the work of Jiang and Rodriguez deliberately mysterious, iconic and as much about circumstances of history that envelope them as their individual lives. Traeger finds her figures and a story that captivates her in the pages of the New York Times. Her engaging style helps to situate the figures to be balanced critically between the trajectory of their own lives as individuals and a bigger destiny that intersects it. In Thirst, a weathered old man finishes a precious container of water in the hot sun and amidst a swirling sea of wheat chaff. He has individual features and character but he is emblematic of the eternal struggle of the farmer with the whims and extremes of nature.

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Traeger’s African School Girl

Traeger’s African Schoolgirl was inspired by a photo of a 2nd grade girl in a classroom of a school opened in a village in Mali( Sub-Saharan Africa) in 2006. When the doors to the school opened, 420 children were already registered and the director stopped enrollment at 887 pupils and without sufficient books and school supplies to really serve the students. The schoolgirl stands before a blank slate with a primitive pointer. Her future and that of the school seem to be open completely to unknown turns of fate.

In Ivory Coast, Trager allows her worker to be quite anonymous in the face of enormous challenge, his face distorted by the grim features of a toxic waste clean up mask. Ivory Coast is a painting of a worker amidst petrochemical waste and toxic soda which was dumped by tanker off the coast. The tanker, traced to a London based company, appeared to have illegally dumped it’s cargo (various toxic waste products) in the middle of the night. Safe disposal in Europe would have cost $300,000 or more. Many residents of one of the poorest regions of the world were taken ill and some died. It is not known what the long-term effects are on the people and the region. Traeger’s curiosity and compassion are presented with tenderness and a loose realism that evokes our own concern and outrage.

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Ivory Coast by Lucy Traeger

In her monotypes, Katherine Levin-Lau continues to delve into her own psyche. Rendering her own face in dark blues, greens and purples, one is reminded of the expressive palette of Matisse. Her expressions are a cross between alarm, irritation, determination, and the kind of expression a mother employs to exact specific behaviors from her children. The varied species of birds she addresses in these images appear to be symbolic, representing enigmatic messages, difficult challenges, revelations, and perhaps the kind of truths that can only be known with the help of a medium.

Charlotte Kruk’s intricate, sassy and ironic dresses sewn, in small sizes, from candy wrappers are always the cause of amazement and a good chuckle. In this exhibition, they add the element of three dimensions and float at many levels in the large office space, like angels ascending into the heavens.

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