I received an invitation to the Aug. 10 opening of — an exhibit at Alameda’s in the location formerly known as St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift shop on Lincoln Avenue. Although Redux is almost a year old, I hadn’t been through the door since dropping off a donation of random dusty household items at least a year prior to that.
Understatement alert: I am not an art critic. As a matter of fact, I don’t get modern art at all. If I see a large square canvas painted a deep shade of purple hanging on the wall at the Oakland Museum, I envision the title “Color Swatch on Steroids.”
So I begged my favorite Studio Art graduate daughter to tag along.
The moment Emily, her fiancé Marshall and I walked into the gallery, I spotted local art reviewer Michael Singman-Aste in the corner. Like most undervalued creative types, Michael wears multiple hats and is also my spin class leader. I greeted him warmly, then begged him to send me his notes on the art show so I could cheat off his paper. (Between Michael and Emily, I figured I could fake the art critic thing…)
At some point during our conversation, Em wandered off and abandoned me. Insecure, I immediately glued myself to another writing buddy/artist — Jaan Kathleen Carter, who had a bright yellow piece on display. In describing it, she said she lets the paint do what it wants to do. She used plastic strawberry crates, pistachio shells and a stamp made from a random “x” that she found on the ground and then stuck on the end of a screw.
When I said I didn’t get modern art, she said it was because I told myself I don’t know what I am talking about. She claims I’m intimidated. (Spot on, Jaan Kathleen…)
So she gave me Art History 101 in a nutshell. She said that originally painting was all about light. Artists portrayed a subject with light “doing things” to it. After that, they began playing with paint. So far I followed…
She pointed to a piece high on the wall — two groups of fringed colored paper cylinders. She said, “That’s one of my favorites. Doesn’t it remind you of anemones?”
Actually, it reminded me of the little paper sleeves chefs stuck on the ends of lamb chops at fancy restaurants in the '60s, but once she said “anemone” I could see it!
Feeling more comfortable in my own skin, I ventured forth intrepidly, having fabulous conversations with artists throughout the gallery. I met Alice Dockter, who didn’t have a work on display because she sold hers before the show opened. We agreed that being an “Alice” made us members of a super special exclusive club because there aren’t many of us on the planet. Although I didn’t get to see it, I bet her work is Alice-worthy.
Toward the back of the gallery, I spoke with — a team of aspiring fashion designers who interned together at College of Alameda. Susan and I are simpatico. In high school, Susan wanted to be a fashion designer. At 16, I knew I wanted to write. Susan’s dad wanted her to be an accountant. My dad offered to pay for law school. I turned him down. (Sorry, guys…)
It took me decades, but I no longer blush and stutter when I introduce myself as a writer. Susan got a degree in graphic design, went into advertising, hated it and is finally pursuing her dreams. She said quietly, “I think the world is harsh on artists. It takes more effort to be a creative person.” Her partner Tina said, “Yes, but if it makes you happy…” I left them to their debate.
The piece that made me happiest was Juliette Chen’s small image of a round-faced Asian boy holding a spiny fish under the arch of a classic blue wave. It will be the front cover of a book of block prints, poetry and short stories by Chen and her husband.
A few others among many:
- “Fitz” collects vintage paintings at garage sales and adds monsters to the existing landscape. The critters remind me of the drawings Marshall leaves around our house. A bit disturbing, but definitely creative.
- Watercolorist Tina Vaughn, whose younger sister was in Em’s class at St. Joseph’s.
- Phil Hargrave’s sculptures — aseated fellow composed of brown corrugated cardboard scraps, a carved sexy wooden torso, and the large head and neck of a metal dragon entitled, “Global Warming Sun.” Emily complimented his work as “technically precise” —clean lines with no ragged edges. She said even the peeling paint was subtle. I just know I liked it.
- Aya — one of Emily’s favorite’s in the exhibit: a bleak Italian landscape with a twisted bare tree in the foreground.
Aya (a.k.a. Ayako Harashima) grew up in Japan and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, the birthplace of landscape painting. She spent three months living in a tent. (That would be my definition of a world harsh on artists.)
When I think Tuscany, I picture rows of lavender and a rustic ivy-covered villa on rolling golden hills. Aya lived in a tent, painting a series of a leafless tree, saying she wanted to capture how its limbs embrace the sky, even as it was dying. I am learning…
My companions and I ended our evening at Park Street’s bar, eating Stromboli delivered from next door. Marshall played pinball while Em hollered her impressions to me above Metallica blaring from the speakers. She said the Redux show was very cool and contemporary. Overall there was quite a bit of talent with nothing really “sub par.” We agreed the exhibitors were sweet and friendly, and she liked the studio space design. It was a great Alameda evening, spent in the good company of struggling artists.
I have a scrap of paper clipped to the “In Basket” on my desk at work. It’s a Sigmund Freud quote that says, “One day in retrospect the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
I am not an art critic, but I can recommend the Redux show. It runs until Oct. 7.