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Lucy Sargeant: Sculptor, David Middlebrook

by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

San Jose, California, Spring 2007

In the sixties, the San Jose State College Art Department was still in transition from status as a teachers’ college to a more professional and modern university. I was an undergraduate, and there was a faculty show every year, if I recall correctly. Like most of my classmates, I entered the gallery in great anticipation to see what my faculty did as artists. Like most faculty shows, at most colleges in those days, it was a mixed bag. There were several inspiring works by the few active artists on the faculty and a lot of drivel that made me cringe. I used to complain bitterly.

A lot has happened in the art world and colleges and universities since the sixties. The MFA has replaced the MA in Art. All art programs from painting to sculpture to time-based media have become more rigorous and their graduates compete fiercely for teaching positions. Schools of art and art departments have raised the bar in hiring and promotion of faculty. The old adage about “‚Ķthose that can’t, teach.” no longer applies. In California especially, the under-funded State University system has had to replace full-time faculty, when they leave, with mostly young, but hip, part-time faculty. The current pictorial arts faculty show in the Natalie and James Thompson Gallery at San Jose State University reflects all this.

As difficult as it is to show fifteen artists without a unifying theme, in one small gallery, this show works. Jo Farb Hernandez’ decision to separate faculty exhibitions into small periodic shows of such disciplines as sculpture or photography or pictorial arts helps to highlight the strengths of this faculty. Further, all the art represents an engagement in contemporary issues and is executed with exemplary craftsmanship. I feel pride for the students and my former colleagues.

Yet there are questions raised by this exhibition. Students, future students and the public go to a faculty show to learn more than simply what each of the individual faculty does artistically. This is a chance to form an impression of the department as a whole. Of fifteen artists represented, only four are full-time faculty. Is this a bad thing, or is it not unlike the faculties of most private art schools, in terms of student contact, where the faculty routinely teaches only two classes per semester? I know the balance at SJSU reflects a reality where a heavy obligation of self-governance and student advising is heaped on a few, while the part-timers suffer a lower pay scale and lack of clout. I wonder too, about the absence of important senior faculty like Rupert Garcia, now in an early retirement program and teaching only in the fall semesters. As a student, I would have liked to see his work included. Another question about faculty might arise concerning the number – eight – of former SJSU graduate students that teach in the pictorial program. I’ve heard objections to such incestuous hiring practices. But, is this a problem, if the work is really strong and diverse as we see here?

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Patrick Surgalski: Untitled

Still, the most singular thing to viewing this show is, indeed, a sense of the art itself. I had a lot of favorites. One is Lucy Sargeant’s large portrait of David Middlebrook, which captures the sculptor at an intense moment with a light source such as one might expect from a bronze pour at the foundry. Robert Chiarito’s Romp is a playful figurative abstraction that uses the figure as a point of departure for rich brush strokes, and vibrant color played against subtle fields of transparent, layered and scumbled whites – all the beautiful classical qualities of oil paint on canvas. Patrick Surgalski shows a large untitled monotype that is handsome and rich with painterly qualities in its dark red field. In a loosely-gridded format, Surgalski introduces big shapes of cut, torn, and collaged paper (an illusion of the monotype process) that bear type, newspaper-sourced photographs and smudged graphic marks from crayon.

Ema Sintamarian and Erik Friedman show works that reflect popular culture, a youthful affinity for crisp graphics and delightfully idiosycratic approaches to drawing. Sintamarian’s Everybody Loves a Cowboy is a complex, brightly colored wooden cutout. Her indecipherable and infinitely meandering lines and patterns, mixed with letter forms, turtles and astronaut suits form a field that surround the wistful, double (read out-of-focus?) image of a young cowboy. Erik Friedman’s Floaters (Day 1) are a grid of small drawings in pen and gouache on layers of duralene. They all play with teetering, falling, crashing power lines and poles in a light brown, clouds of energy or dust or carnival ferris-wheels, or mazes of razor wire, depicted by fine parallel lines in a light earthy colors, and finally, wildly distorted, crunched-up, flying vehicles depicted in the same careful, meticulous, parallel, but slightly darker lines. Is this Friedman’s commute from Oakland to San Jose?

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Ema Sinatamarian: Everybody Loves a Cowboy

The graphic, mixed-media works by Gina Pearlin, Lynn Powers and Theta Belcher have a more poetic, mystical quality, evoking a hope for harmony with nature or the spiritual, and even a transcendence. Varying degrees of abstraction are seen in the paintings of Leroy Parker, Christine Canepa, Mel Adamson, Marlene Angeja and Don Feasel. Gale Antokal’s drawing of a skater in grays is nostalgic and quiet, like a walk through the forest after a new snow. Brenda Jamrus’ elegant work is, rather inexplicably, a mirror-image photographic print of a river landscape framed by dense, bare, tree branches.

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Gale Antokal: Place (study)

If you have ever been disillusioned or bored by faculty exhibitions, now is the time to give them another look. They are inevitably informative and demonstrative, as a continuity with the past, but now I think you certainly will see consistently strong art, as well.

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