Cumulative Portraits and Messages over Time, Speak to Stages of Life

By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

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The lining of Rayner’s Coat, composed of small portrait photos.

The beginning of the academic year at SJSU is marked by a surprising exhibition by Santa Cruz artist Bev Rayner in Gallery 3. A single form – a coat with a long tale and long arms – occupied nearly the entire gallery. Much larger than the previous multimedia sculpture with which I am familiar, this work has all of the content that Rayner is known for, and more. Again, Rayner speaks to the endless generations of families and friends that are preserved in our memories, by family snapshots as much as anything else — and even then, as time passes, their images are lost in our minds. Photographs of men and women of all ages line the interior of the coat, disappearing into the depths of the long lining that lies face down on the floor.

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A rich tapestry of greeting cards form the outer layer of Rayner’s elegant coat.

If an image on photo paper is relatively factual, Rayner also calls up our emotional attachment to the special individuals in our life on the exterior of the coat with a grand collage of greeting cards from many epochs of graphic design. The birthday and anniversary congratulations and condolences for loss that we send are another marker of time in our march from birth to death, and perhaps they are the icing on the cake — the messages that reassure us we matter, that our lives will not be forgotten, that our families are a constant no matter the shift of fortune or political winds.

A smaller sculpture in a discrete corner of the gallery speaks to the years of a woman’s life through endless layers of pantyhose stretched over a pair of manniken legs. The top layers move from tans to white as orthopedic support-hose takes over the upper strata. This piece is a funny and a charming complement to the sentimental coat with its greater detail and more complex message.

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