Best Coast, by Jeff Jahn, part two
Swarm 2003 mixed media (detail)
The West Coast is a kingdom
of the eye. This "show me" or "what does it look like?"
culture places a lot of emphasis on tangible visual effects. For example,
Curtis Fairman's sci-fi collages transform everyday kitsch objects into
more exciting versions of the present. Likewise, damali ayo's impish
attention to skin color and commodity are theater for the eye. Vinh
Bui's Vision as an Apparatus makes this point very clear, literally
through transparent materials that act as a jungle gym for the eyes.
Then there is Felipe Dulzaides'
video of his breath moving various objects, Blowing Things Away. In
addition to the whimsy it is an exhaustive physical study of breathing
that also tells the story of moving from Cuba to San Francisco.
Robert Yoder creates playfully
elegant collaged signifiers. In his work a sign can be a constraint
or an opportunity, both a puzzle and a roadmap. Yoder's work distills
a truism; art like life is as sophisticated and wonderful as you care
to make it. All of these artists digest and complicate simple daily
routines like shopping, building and breathing. In a very capitalistic
sense they are literally accessorizing even the most basic elements
of being alive. On the West Coast, people can easily reinvent themselves
like chameleons with their credit card.
Also, the art world's recent
nodal fragmentation, due to art fairs and an increasingly global economy
is evident in this show. Many artists have experimented with dual citizenships
either in the present or past. M.K. Guth lives in New York and Portland.
She focuses on the collision of human fears and abilities via superheroes
and heroines. Laura Fritz, who melds creepy sci fi experiences to Hitchcock
like noir left Chicago to explore the frayed edges of sci-fi, noir and
nature in Portland. Jack Daws moved from Kentucky to become Seattle's
most visible political art provocateur. Felipe Dulzaides left Cuba for
the Bay Area, Vinh Bui left Wisconsin for California's art schools and
Jacqueline Ehlis left Portland to study with Dave Hickey, only to return
with newfound potency. A new you is easier to pull off here.
With the inclusion of Tim
Bavington, Jacqueline Ehlis and Curtis Fairman a checkup of Dave Hickey's
influence is in full effect. All three infuse tired old genres with
freshness by slipping stoic puritanical aesthetic impulses a pop mickie;
they do not ghettoize the once diametric impulses of Finish Fetish,
Pop, Op-Art, Neo-Plasticism, Art Informel or Marfa Minimalism. All three
complicate philosophy with pleasure, in other words, those 20th century
textbook genres are having funky love children.
Antonio Puleo Adam
and Eve I 2003 mixed media
What is refreshing about
this group is they literally love what they do, it is not just some
cynical strategy or a joke. By complicating what they love (music, the
body, sci-fi) all three distill vitality, an element so valued we seldom
dare speak of it. Tim Bavington's fluorescent-banded fogs of color are
often based on classic guitar solos. In classic rock, this is the point
of asymmetrical epiphany in a song. Bavington separates this structurally
translatable moment like a nice bit of computer code and virally grafts
it into Brigit Reilly and Gene Davis's stripe vocabulary. This transferred
asymmetrically emphasizes how an interesting life must be approached,
with fresh expectations and perspectives. Nothing is new but contexts
are infinitely shifting. It goes beyond sampling and becomes the vocabulary
of a vibrant life. Likewise, Jacqueline Ehlis' recent work takes on
subjectivity with physical vigor. Her work, a complication of painting
and sculpture, challenges and heighten the viewer's sense of place,
something Barnett Newman was fond of discussing but perhaps never achieved.
The difference with an Ehlis is its invasive and generous quality. Much
like watching a top athlete, élan vital is bounced off the viewer
and the tensioned grafts of materials ask to cut in for the next dance.
Curtis Fairman's fantasia for lounge kitsch and sci-fi geek speak, grafts
techie subculture to the Wal-Mart materials he fashions them from. It
is this new but global subculture's devotion to detail that makes the
information age possible.
Younger artists like Chandra
Bocci, Antonio Puleo, Tyler Kline, Melissa Smith, Todd Johnson or Ephraim
Russell the impulse to mix the problems of the present with the Pop
Culture expectations of the future shows just how much the torch of
intellectual hedonism has touched dry tinder. This aesthetic was given
more license by Dave Hickey's Beau Monde exhibition in 2001. Established
artists like Malia Jensen's intuitive conceptualism, Tom Cramer's hip/ancient
jam sessions, Sean Healy's primal cell memory nostalgia, Jay Johnson's
socio-kinetic adventures, Bruce Conkle's fantasia involving fairytales
and chemical weapons and Harrell Fletcher's focus on everyday miracles
all bespeak a truth about the West Coast, it is a place where the lust
for life lives.
If you can't find a conceptual
link in this crazy quilt survey, look to how Joie de Vivre and the perception
of living a real life is a conceptual challenge that every individual
must substantiate. The complex issues of the day prove Shakespeare's
words, "there are more things in Heaven and Earth
. than are
dreamt of in your philosophy." In keeping with the West Coast Way,
The Best Coast artists simply adapt and get on with the new complexities
we could hardly conceive of yesterday. Problem solving, culture and
life are not spectator sports! This healthy attitude gives the younger
and more open West Coast an edge.