DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       September 2003  


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The Best Coast, by Jeff Jahn, part two

Chandra Bocci 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.



Jeff Jahn is a writer and curator based in Portland, Oregon. He contributes regularly to artcritical, Modern Painters and other publications. You can see more of his latest show at www.thebestcoast.com