Portraits (and Anti-Portraits) of the Artists as Award Winners
With the flagship ‘2011 Individual Artist Award Winners’ show at the Arts Fund Gallery, there’s a particular freshness in this year’s crop
BY JOSEF WOODARD
SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
A certain and palpable buzz descends on the Arts Fund Gallery once a year, when all concerned know “it’s IAA time.” In the most important group show of the year in the Arts Fund Gallery, a handsomely acquitted hot spot in Santa Barbara’s beach-adjacent “funk zone,” the winners of its annual Individual Artist Award competition go public. This year’s group is a particularly fresh bunch.
Many names and artistic “faces” are involved, among both winners and runners-up, including as-yet familiar figures on the Santa Barbara scene well worth keeping a lookout for. Each year, the categories shift, and the 2011 points of visual art focus were 2D Figurative Work (winner, James Petrucci, honorable mention going to Mary Carol Kenney and Henry Rasmussen) and Printmaking (winner, James Hapke, alongside honorary mention holders Alejandro Casazi and Stephanie Dotson).
We’ll be seeing more of the winners next year, as both Petrucci and Hapke earn one-person shows in this space as a coveted part of the IAA prize. To some degree, we might pay more attention to the honorable mentions in the house, whose presence here is, for now, more fleeting.
Serenading the gallery space, representing the winner in the sonic sphere of this year’s “solo vocal” category, is the fine tenor Geoffrey Hahn, laying out the dulcet tones of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ art song “Wither Where I Wander,” on a YouTube video.
In some way, that luminously sung classical piece is the most traditional artwork in the room, but actually not the only music-related piece. The most intriguing piece here is by Casazi, whose etching and lithography pieces are delicate, ephemeral affairs.”4’33,” dedicated to conceptualist-composer John Cage’s famous “silent” piece for inactive pianist, of course is not silent or static, reliant instead on what sounds occur in the concert hall where the piece — noise, and life, go on.
In Casazi‘s piece, the artist alludes to the aleotoric airs of the Cage original, with markings both clear, deceptively rational and Cage-ily cryptic.
Printmaking winner Hapke works many angles toward some malleable middle in his works, mixing up imagery and text, scruffy surfaces and data conjuring mash-up intrigue. We look for clues into the heart and mind of the artist, for instance, in the piece he calls “Cumulative Self-Portrait #2,” with its mysterious and tasty matrices of slapdash picture-making, teasing and power words, and the occasional religious icon. But we sense that the artist, too, is on a search for self-definition, which becomes both a subplot and a super-plot in the work.
Dotson, one artist in this group who has been making her odd and oddly delightful artistic presence known around the Santa Barbara art scene in recent years, goes in a different, but not necessarily more easily self-revealing direction with her print “Portrait.” In this compact compression of pictorial information, a vintage woman’s photograph is caught in a clenched pile-up of a drawn tree limb, a few extra eyes for cosmic flair, and murky swipes of pink and gray. All of this central imagistic activity is adrift in a cleansing broad perimeter of white void space. It’s a portrait and anti-portrait, in one strangely seductive package.
In the IAA awards figurative zone, various enticing roughneck strategies are afoot. Kenney’s richly but also ruggedly painted nude scenes respect painterly conventions while also twisting up our expectations. In “A Different Kind of Marriage,” a lounging nude couple — possibly pre- or post-sexual contact — uniformly gawk off to our right, as if numbed by an unseen television.”Close Distance” is a sumptuously realized study of a healthy, happy nude woman, one of a more Rubenesque proportion, off to the left of modern emaciated model standards. In his paintings, Rasmussen steers away from tradition more fervently, into the realm of what could be called post-punk painting. Faces loom large in the compositional frame of his pieces, but the details have been smudged into a defacing blur. We get a general feeling of primal energy and graffiti-inspired, Banksy-esque prankster modernity.
And in his own special way, IAA figurative art winner Petrucci also mucks about with the orthodoxy of the painting art, and is finding his own way through the historically loaded thicket of the medium. Of particular interest in this show is “Adrift,” a quixotic painting of a young man in a chair, in a kind of apparently neutralized — “adrift” — emotional state. His affect is enhanced by the distinctive painting style with details roughed-up and fragmented, without losing the essence of the pictorial substance at hand.
There is an intriguing expressive paradox at work in Petrucci’s work, which has the effect of whetting out appetites for his one-man show, coming soon enough in this rewarding — and awarding — art space.
‘2011 INDIVIDUAL ARTIST AWARD WINNERS’
When: through Nov. 5
Where: Arts Fund Gallery, 205C Santa Barbara St. Gallery hours: 1 to 5 p.m.
Tuesday through Saturday Information: 965-7321, http://www.artsfundsb.org