Six San Jose Artists Exhibit at Bill Gould Design
By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Spring 2007

 

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Architect, Bill Gould

 

Bill Gould Design, relocated from Los Gatos to San Jose, has brought his stimulating mix of architecture, design, music and art to Umbarger Road – an unexpected and out of the way site for such an intersection. Still, art aficionados flock to the openings of new shows at the site to fete local artists, musicians and Gould’s own architectural works-in-progress on such institutions the San Jose ICA, Works Gallery or local schools. In his warehouse-workshop Gould’s sculptural forms for site-specific public art or an installation planned for Burning Man may also be seen.


On April 26, a new exhibition of work by six young and mid-career artists opened with outdoor dancing and the sounds of the Jim Dewrance Blues Band. In the offices and large open spaces, curator Kathryn Funk, presented ceramics by Diane Levinson, paintings and drawings by Jason Adkins, altered photography by Kathryn Dunlevie, sculptural relief forms by Lisa Ramirez, and paintings by Everett Taasevigen and Ben Alexi. A celebration occurred with artists, architects and art lovers schmoozing, toasting, and mingling in an event that had the simultaneous flavors of haute cuisine hors d’oeuvres and an underground happening.

This could be that last local exhibition of work by Everett Taasevigen, whose art has become high profile in San Jose. He is moving to Houston, Texas. The paintings shown do not vary greatly from the trajectory of his work in San Jose, nor do they disappoint his fans. In broad sweeping impasto gestures that belie the layering of material on his surfaces, Taasevigen lays out a simple composition that feels active and immediate. The surfaces are built up with acrylic media that is basically white until Taasevigen works it with graphite, producing delicate and transparent grays in a full range of values. In some works there are haiku-like swirls and splashes or runes scratched into the wet surface. Most of the relief areas in his paintings occur at the bottom of a horizontal – often a very long horizontal – rectangle, creating the impression of an extensive seascape. Titles such as From Here to There, Skyline and Should We Pack a Lunch? affirm this content in his expressionistic abstractions. Other titles such as Sometimes We Can Dream and The Rushing of Dreams reveal a romantic tendency in the work. Taasevigen’s art has developed along a unique and consistently personal path since he emerged on the scene as a student at San Jose State University. An anomaly in San Jose, these minimal and elegant abstractions recall more international models such as Tapies.

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Diane Levinson: Teapot with WMD

 

Diane Levinson is another San Jose Artist with a large following and many exhibitions to her credit. I was familiar with her playful, exuberant and colorful over-sized ceramics in the form of plates and surprised by the more vertical vessels she is showing at Bill Gould Design. The larger-than-life-sized quality of the work remains in this series and is consistent with what I know of her work. But the bold colors of the plates have been replaced by more earthy colors that seem to honor the influences and sources of her theme of ceremonial vessels – urns for earthly remains, or a harvest basket, perhaps. Levinson offers the disclaimer that these vessels are fictitious, a product of the artist’s imagination as opposed to replicating any particular historical form. Yet, the subdued colors, the relatively unadorned traditional forms may in fact indicate a more conservative conceptual direction for Levinson. Kathryn Funk notes that Levinson has always worked one whimsical vein of her work as she engages another serious direction that talks about the history of ceramics itself. One piece, Teapot with WMD, harkens back to the Levinson style for which she is best known — satirical, humorous and light hearted. Its body looks something like an imaginary missile silo, stabbed into submission by a school child’s #2 pencils (which conveniently form the handle and spout of the teapot), just before it blew its stack (see pressure gauge!). Still another favorite, Basket #2, is substantial, with appealing contours and an earthy simplicity that forces the viewer to contemplate its irony and inherent contradictions – the weight and impenetrability of clay vs. the light porosity of woven fibers.

 

 

Lisa Ramirez paints and constructs reliquaries and altars to women’s martyrdom in wall reliefs that take the form of shields and open books. Her multimedia constructions employ photographs – often blurry and generalized glimpses of figures, mostly women – seen through windows that are deeply cut shapes into the pages of open books. We see a close-up of out-of-focus breasts, or a woman’s arched white neck and her face in orgasmic release. She uses collaged elements such as hair, long severed tresses, lace, dried leaves and roses, thorny rose stems, letters, seed pods and the bones of spinal columns. A ubiquitous dark brownish-red varnish wrapping around every piece seals all the elements into a time capsule for eternity. Blood has a particular meaning for women. The spines, gashes and almond-shaped shields also conjure multiple significations and evoke contradictory emotions. The vaginal shapes are sometimes wounds but in the case of the shields they appear also to be a woman’s strength. The spine of the book like the human spine is most essential to the integrity of its form, and suggests our most vulnerable hidden support. We think of Frida Khalo. The spines on the rose stem recall the virgin of Guadalupe and the suffering of Christ under a crown of thorns. Often the pieces are at once repugnant, sentimental, and quite beautiful.

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Lisa Ramirez: Shield

Ramirez’ work also honors and mourns personal friends she has lost. Lourdes, Bob and Bow is a book done for Robert Ya√±ez, a San Jose artist who died of AIDS. Cupid’s bow intersects an indefinite image of nude male figures on one page and the flames of passion burn on the opposite page. Another work, Pray for Raleigh, is an open book with windows cut into both sides of the body of the book. Within these windows we see an up reaching hand, votive candles, and hazy snapshots of human figures. A web of tangled human hair wraps around a cellu clay fish-like spine that runs down the center crease. Does the hair stand in for nerves that emanate from the spine or are we looking at a long wound that has been sewn up in an intimate, hairy part of the body? The tips of the spine connect to vines growing toward the outside edges of the book suggesting a regeneration of life. Questions and sensations of tragedy, sadness, endurance and even faith, spring from this powerful work.

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Lisa Ramirez: Dyptich

 

The manipulated photographs of Kathryn Dunlevie continue to intrigue us in this show, as they engage the ongoing conversation over photography’s inherent duplicity. Her large photographic collages, which are painted on and worked to create new realities, fool the eye for a moment, then challenge the viewer to decipher what is wrong with this depiction of three-dimensionality. Many of her works, employ repetitions or mirror imaging of certain landscape or architectural elements to create a near symmetry and mystery. In Storm Warning the floats on ropes in a swimming pool fly above and stretch below the horizon in a watery blue vision. The lines of these lane markers converge diagonally toward the center creating a vertigo that suggests the center of a Midwest rainstorm. Vaguely, through the blue veil, we see the silhouettes of architecture and the swimmers around the edges that are lining up to dive into the eye of the storm.

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Kathryn Dunlevie: Lines

Dunlevie’s Lines begins with an airport tarmac, or is it a street scene in a warehouse district? As in Storm Warning, Dunlevie plays with the long linear edges of the structures in her photographs, yet here she avoids the beautiful, almost-artificial color, favoring more gritty grays and soft browns. We see the wing of an aircraft seemingly emerge from a wall in the foreground. A group of tugs sit in lanes that disappear beneath the edge of the wing. The boarding jet-way in the background looms large in proportion to the jet’s wing. The composition is a zigzag intersection of industrial buildings meeting forms that reference aviation. Unfocused brush strokes and indecipherable imagery in the lower left corner seem to speak to a point of fusion between a fast moving center of commerce and the more static civic infrastructure. This image is one of Dunlevie’s more edgy and provocative. Avoiding a seductive design solution, she leaves a conceptual issue in the air.

 

The paintings of Jason Adkins grow from a process working and layering gestures, lines and the beginnings of forms with graphite and gesso. Slowly some marks disappear and others become darker and assume prominence in the emergence of objects, figures, body parts and the art-historical references that are familiar and recurring in Adkins’ work. The initial onslaught of information, energy, color and movement in his paintings might suggest a stream-of-consciousness approach that brings random associations to the fore. Talking to the artist and patient reading of signifiers will reveal a much more calculated outcome. Adkins, a young artist who just completed his MFA at San Jose State University, approaches his work with a strong intuition and the confidence that he has something to say.

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Jason Adkins: Deluge

In this exhibition we see painting and some of his loose drawings of a cucaracha (dead) that convey his dark sense of humor and draughtsmanship. The large painting, Deluge, best represents the style and content Adkins’ paintings are becoming known for. His convoluted forms wrestle with each other, sometimes playfully but often menacingly. Disembodied hands, ribcages, entrails, eyeballs, cuts of meat and animal parts rest in, or morph into household plumbing, green snaky tubery, bananas, and hot-air balloons. Breasts and pustules expel revolting substances. Everything seems inextricably trapped in a web of veins, tendons, goo and fibers. The grasp of a stray hand on a phallic form, here and there, evokes a masturbatory universe. Occasionally, we see a subtle reinterpretation of Picasso, Gorky or Phillip Guston peeking out of history to observe the Adkins universe. We are reminded, as well, of the worlds of Dali, Duchamp, and especially Hieronymus Bosch. Adkins certainly gets our attention as he holds a mirror up to the grotesque, uncivilized, unpredictable, even amusing aspects of our existence.

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Ben Alexi: Baumann’s Monkeys

Ben Alexi is a very serious painter. His gigantic paintings of animals might appear, at first glance, to present a realist’s fascination with animals. But Alexi’s style is less harsh than the realists, more washy, less about paint, and more about the sociopolitical implications. In the three-panel painting Cows, Alexi prominently shows us a landscape with black and white cows and calves grazing on an unhealthy grass that is the color of silage. Our eye moves to other clues that this is about much more than representation. The transparent brownish green is a field on which we find rectangles, circles, pseudo-scientific notations and indecipherable runes. The detached and heady world of human systems looms over and threatens that fundamental relationship to the earth that we knew a very few generations ago. Santa Clara Valley, once the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”, filled with blooming orchards, abundant produce, and dairies, is now “Silicon Valley”, the home of biotechnology, cyber science and rapidly multiplying high-rise housing developments. Alexi’s Bauman’s Monkeys poses a similar juxtaposition. The ground is full of drippy paint, notations, geometry, calculations, and illegible observations. A group of bewildered simians, tightly clustered together, clinging to the end of a rope and each other, and confront the same incomprehensible vestiges of human achievement.

Kathryn Funk’s exhibition at Bill Gould Design represents the multidisciplinary, multilayered richness of endeavor in the San Jose art scene.

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