More than Fun, A Great Survey of What is Happening Artistically in the South Bay

By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

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Erika Hannes and Praba Pilar arrive from San Francisco and Oakland to enjoy First Friday in San Jose.

As the Sofa District of San Jose undergoes a face-lift, parking is readdressed and neighborhood restaurants burst outdoors onto widened sidewalks, the monthly ritual of gallery visits, sidewalk chats with friends, and dinner downtown is enhanced. Lighted trees, live music on stages, dancers, street vendors and street poets all made the visual arts district come alive on the outside and inside on September’s First Friday.

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Live music on the stage in front of Anno Domini Gallery, contributed to the ambiance of the South First Street “Gallery Crawl” on First Friday, September 4th

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Street vendors on South First between San Carlos and San Salvador have fun and sell their work. “Hi Gustavo!”

Stages in front of Anno Domini and MACLA brought a wide variety of energized sounds to the street. Live music inside Eulipia appealed to diners, offering a more relaxed listening environment. Beyond the vendors and galleries, art could be seen in unconventional spaces such as the new Downtown Yoga Shala, the billiards parlor and Caffé Trieste. Other new tenants on South First Street, in The Art Glass Center bring art glass in action, with community accessibility to the scene.

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The Art Glass Center is a new member of the visual arts organizations that populate south First Street in San Jose.

Beginning at Reed Street and working my north, I visited the San Jose ICA where my favorite pieces were the stunning prints of Christel Dillbohner. I learned that all were executed in the ICA print Center in collaboration with technical assistance from talented Director of the Print Center, Fanny Retsek. A combination of photographic polymer and colagraph technique on softly colored organic papers produced a grid of images that are serial but with infinite variation. They evoke as well as depict the textures of nature, particularly in winter in the polar regions and moments of stasis or decay. The silhouette of an untended vessel moored in an aging float, perhaps in an estuary, the stalks of grasses covered by the texture of an early frost are literal references to decline. They are played off the loose textures of impasto strokes of material on the colagraph plate by the artist’s hand, and an expressionistic splatter of liquids. Some of the resulting images are a seamless blend of specific imagery and abstraction, and others contrast subtly, offering an entry in to the pure creative and subjective reality of the artist’s sense of the beauty of our surroundings even in the most unforeseen situations and far-flung uninhabitable regions.

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A detail of Christel Dillbohner’s mixed media prints that address the sensations and textures of nature at the Poles, at the San Jose ICA

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The colorful Mola is featured at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

The Museum of Quilts and Textiles is celebrating the Central American tradition of the Mola, an appliqué of fabrics in a certain style that may include figures but most traditionally features the plants and animals of the tropics in bright colors on a red background. Breaking out of the historic tradition of the Mola, fashion enthusiasts must see the wild contemporary shoes made from the Mola! Also at the Museum are the quilts of Joyce Gross, on loan from the Dolph Briscoe Center, addressing the importance of the quilt as an historically undervalued medium for women artists.

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La Reconquista by the de la Torre Brothers, features an altar and painting of the Last Judgment where the damned and the saved are figures from contemporary affairs, photoshopped onto bodies in a Hans Memling altarpiece.

At MACLA, the 20th Anniversary of the Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americano was played out in the street as well as the Gallery. The musicians, poets and Aztec Dancers were colorful and kept a large audience including children entertained outside. Inside, viewers loved the exuberant and always outrageous blown glass sculpture and installations of the de la Torre Brothers. Pho-zole, a version of an installation recently done for the Orange County Museum in Southern California, fills the wall with plates and bowls of soups and other wild concoctions — photographic and three-dimensional, that play off of the Mexican and Asian love of soups. In San Jose, it is probably unnecessary to explain that pho refers to Vietnamese noodles and pozole is a favorite Mexican stew. The brothers Jamex and Einar, in their frequent visits to San Jose, noted that the Tun Kee Noodle house on William Street was as popular with Mexican patrons as Asians. Even more popular with visitors, was the life-sized altar, La Reconquista, commissioned for the occasion of MACLA’s anniversary by an NEA grant. Fans crowded in front of the lively lenticular images of souls bound for heaven or hell, trying to identify and names and faces of political, entertainment and historic figures that the brothers have photoshopped onto bodies in a Hans Memling altar painting of the Last Judgment. For this task it really helps if you are a Latino, married to a Latino, a Mexicophile or, at least, watch a lot of soccer on the Mexican TV channels. And keep your sense of humor.

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Jamex de la Torre embraces wife, Beliz, who flew into San Jose for the inauguration of La Reconquista.

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This installation at Works Gallery is part of a documentation of the continual movement the magnetic North Pole, marked annually by a colorful flag.

At Works, further up South First Street, a very dignified and an elegant exhibition continues the local exploration of polar issues (connected to issues suggested by the Biennal, Zero1) from exploration, to scientific monitoring and ecological concerns, and of course the North and South Poles as a source of artistic inspiration.

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Sam3, keeps his paintings fluid an fresh, creating a background for his canvasses by painting directly on the walls of Anno Domini, in his first solo gallery exhibition.

At Anno Domini, I was very taken with the debut solo gallery exhibition of Sam3, a Spanish artist who works, on this occasion, in a somewhat restrained scale. Anno Domini tells us that Sam began as a youthful street artist, adding his moniker to the ranks of others on concrete in the urban jungle. Yet, he made it to art school and graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from a Granada University and applied his talents to illustration and animation in Barcelona before renouncing the “corporate life” that such commercial applications of his art represented. Since 2006, Sam has dedicated his life to his own art, creating murals in 24 cities in 13 countries from Palestine to Brazil. We are not told that Sam had permission or commissions for these outdoor works, but that he leaves his compelling metaphorical images to be deciphered and “owned” by the community. His figures are amazingly rich with painterly qualities and profound observations on the human condition. He employs black and white with a formally exciting and sophisticated hand.

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A secret history of grade school social life is recorded on the wooden desktops, as documented in the photographs of Naciem Nickhah.

First Fridays also embrace such Galleries off the main path as Khaleid on Fourth Street, Phantom Galleries in empty downtown storefronts and Space 47, half a block off of South First on William Street. Space 47’s exhibition, A Private Rebellion: Photographs by Iranian artist Naciem Nikkhah constitute a moving journal that recaptures the place and people of Nikkhah‚Äôs childhood. She reconstructs the dramas of a proscribed social life in the grade-school classroom through notes and scratches on school desks. She revisits the cities, shops and even individuals that populated her formative years in Iran.

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