Gale Antokal Shows at Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles

By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Gale Antokal’s Departure 1 (Study), 2010, Pastel, ash and flour on paper

Gale Antokal has long been a member of the San Jose State University, Department of Art faculty, and known locally as a powerful teacher by her students and colleagues. In the 90’s, Antokal worked her pastels into solid portrayals of forms such as bowling balls, plates, and other domestic objects in luscious color which was a tour de force, an undeniable physical presence in their worldly domain.  For the last ten years, the dichotomy in her work has caused a movement toward the ethereal moments, events and places that are possible illusions, embody premonitions, and are almost impossible to situate. Her drawings are delicate, often pale works, in the fragile medium of pastel on paper, which transcend the material world and transport us to a contemplation of the small events of everyday life in a much larger context. Her drawings question our role in everyday existence as well as our unfathomable universe, and question the human capacity to know or sense its’ connection to a larger domain. In Antokal’s recent exhibition Out of the Blue, at Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles, she continues to embrace the incomprehensible points in life when something mundane, yet monumental, passes before us ineffably.

Out of the Blue 3, 2010, Gale Antokal, at the Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles

The fine powder of chalk, ash and flour are apt vehicles for the metaphor of the lightness and evanescence of life that is the subject of much of her work. These monochromatic materials create an uncertainty, an anxious unseen force surrounding every life event. Antokal speaks of a haunting image from childhood of spilt milk flowing down stairs– this is one of those small everyday moments, which we may not recognize as significant, but touches and so transforms our existence.

The trail of the skaters on ice in a mist, the mirror-like reflection of bicyclists on a wet surface, a figure blinded and caught up in a storm — all represent moments which our transient identity as humans is expressed. We lose our orientation.  The self-images we carry may be only memories or illusions, a conceit of our egos, a form on the verge of dissolution into its anonymity, or its most miniscule parts.

Antokal’s Cold Tears

A moving essay by UC Berkeley’s Craig Buckwald explores the suggestions brought forth by Antokal’s previous exhibition at the Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco, We Are So Lightly Here. From the ephemeral art materials — ash, flour and pastel — to the original photographs from which Antokal draws many of her images, there are references to the temporal, to the journey, displacements, and the precariousness of identity. Some photographs are cropped, clearly dated by fashion, and in their sense of movement with the metaphors suggested by suitcases, they speak to journeys, final or otherwise.

Gale Antokal: Aornos 12, 2010

In images from Out of the Blue, we see figures that pass through an archway, farm buildings that are silhouetted by the stormy sky light of an approaching tornado, which direct us once again to the moments when everything changes, but still, the cycles of life and death continue unabated.  In Cold Tears, icicles that hang from a roof evoke the sense of metamorphosis of the solid, to the liquid, ice to water, which then evaporates- this is one more cycle of life. A domesticated bird, which sits on top of its cage, once again evokes the metaphor of the fragility of life.  This makes me wonder if the bird could survive if it escaped to the outdoors, or if its freedom from the cage is more important. In an effort to ponder these situations we do the best that we can to realize that the mysteries of life are precious and invaluable. Buckwald believes that Antokal is saying, “Let it go.”

Not many of those who know Gale Antokal as an artist and a teacher will have had the opportunity to see her work in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Ideally, these works should be viewed collectively to get a full sense and impact of Antokal’s considerations and explorations. As I write these comments on Professor Antokal’s work, I hope that a more extensive exhibition of her work may be seen in Silicon Valley someday.

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