GLASS DOOR GALLERY
“Winter Hours” Exhibition through January 5, 2014
245 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
Tuesday-Saturday 12-7, Sunday by appointment
Review by STEVEN SIMMONS
In an exhibition titled “Winter Hours” at the innovative and eclectic Glass Door Gallery in North Beach the curators have selected works that, according to them, “explore salvage and reconstruction, order and disorder, temperature and mood.” In their widely different explorations of these themes three veteran Bay Area artists in the show stand out: Ronald Chase, Carl Heyward, and Joan Stennick
Of the three Ronald Chase is the oldest and the best known – as an independent filmmaker, a photographer, an opera designer, and an educator as well as a painter. At the Glass Door he is showing four fiercely elegant paintings he calls “History Lesson”[s]. Three of these are vertically oriented adventures on the grid. Using a color palette of ochre, gray, tan, white and black Chase creates a picture plane composed of small abstract rectangles of varying shapes, rather like an early Mondrian. The power of the work comes its playing off order against disorder, from the tension between the precision of the geometry and Chase’s rough and “painterly” brushstrokes within and across it. Sometimes a mass of paint moves from one rectangle to another, at other time paint drips vertically across the lines of the grid.
Chase’s fourth (and at 60 x 47 inches the largest) History Lesson shares with the others the grid-like form, the subdued colors, and the deliberately rough painting. Here, though, the orientation is horizontal; black shapes become a kind of frame around much of the painting’s edge; and Chase introduces touches of subdued red in some of the painting’s lettering. Yes, lettering, because in this piece Chase has pasted parts of journal pages within selected rectangles.
The content of these pages vary from fragments of German, Italian, and English phrases, to musical notes, to tiny drawings of buildings, cityscapes, fauna and flora. Because of the magisterial combination of the geometric abstraction and the historical (i.e., autobiographical) content this is the most powerful of Chase’s Lessons.
ronald chase : collage # 7
The other two pieces of Chase’s in the Glass Door Show are large (35x 27 inches) collages composed mainly of incised, raised, and neutrally colored composition paper. Each of these has a single shape in its center: a triangle in one, a horizontal crescent in the other. Both are deceptively simple and both are very beautiful.
UNTITLED (crown) Carl Heyward
Like Ronald Chase’s, Carl Heyward’s oeuvre straddles a number of disciplines, in his case writing, photography, conceptual art, digital graphics, and mixed media collages. It is six of the latter, all 18 x 24 inches, which he’s exhibiting at the Glass Door.
The incorporation of “texts” is as important in Heyward’s work as it is in some of Chase’s, but in contrast to Chase’s use of very personal written and drawn material, Heyward’s use of words and images is more about art and social history. He does not hide his artistic forbearers, most prominently mid-century American ones, including the op and pop artists as well as Rauschenberg and Johns. Heyward’s collages here salvage and reconstruct in new contexts a wide range of cultural material, including contemporary advertisements, vintage anatomical drawings, old sepia-tinted photographs, Chinese calligraphy, Latin posters, construction paper, floral wallpaper, a ribbon. In contrast to Chase’s carefully controlled artistic compositions, Heyward’s are exuberantly loose, at times almost anarchistic. While Chase’s color palette is consistently subdued, Heyward’s is varied, brilliant, and at times almost florescent.
Heyward’s best work here is probably his most boldly executed yet most simply composed, for example, a stunning two panel work called “A Two Enso Evening.” “Enso” is a meditative Zen practice based on a circle that includes both light and darkness, and here Heyward explores the contrast between the two by painting the background of one collage gleaming black, the background of its companion piece gleaming white. Against both he has juxtaposed fragments of various and radically disparate types of paper (including, for example, part of a yellowed page of a translation from Chinese to English, part of a used and crumpled mailing envelope, part of a cardboard logo for Bud Light), which form incomplete circles across the paper and suggest that only fragments of a Zen circle are now possible.
In another fine piece, against a background of acid yellows and blues and greens, Heyward uses thick black lines, “X”s, and word fragments (“ZONA LIBRA”- upside down) to create a work that is exuberantly jazzy, tropical, and both politically and poetically evocative.
JOAN STENNICK / ARTIST STATEMENT:
In these paintings I track an interior landscape with varied levels of connection to physical reality; never planned in advance, but allowing it to happen as it emerges…when it feels right in my body… and making the mark when I see the shot.
Joan Stennick is one of the best abstract painters currently working in the Bay Area. Her work demonstrates how much visual complexity and emotional power can be found in the kind of bold, risk-taking abstraction she practices, how alive and up to the minute the tradition of gestural painting can be.
Two years ago a Stennick exhibition at the Bonnafont Gallery was dominated by a series of predominantly black paintings. There are three of these at the Glass Door in which, as the artist puts it, “sign posts, scraping, adding, subtracting and punctuating” create canvases that both pulse with energy and yet resolve themselves into serene wholes. Of course, none of these are entirely black. They’re punctuated, so to speak, with patches of pale color (white, silver, putty) that shine through the black like lights in the darkness.
In two of the finest of Stennick’s new paintings at the Glass Door she moves away from the means and methods of the black paintings, not only in her introduction of color but in her abandonment of “overall” composition in which no element stands out more dominantly than any other. In a large and very fine, vertically oriented work of grays, whites, gray-greens, and pale greens it’s as though one picture plane is imposed over another. In the background are a series of stumbled slashes and swirls of paint, in the foreground a series of mainly vertical drips. Or is it the other way around? In any case one reads the drips and swirls separately, as occupying two different but overlapping spaces.
An even more daring departure from the black pieces is Stennick’s largest (48 x 58 inches} canvas here, one in which she proves herself a master of color. At the top and on the right side of the painting areas of pinks and various shades of green sometimes overlap, sometimes butt up against areas of black, white, pale grays. The composition is dominated by and somehow made complete by a smallish reddish orange rectangle embedded in charcoal on the lower left side of the canvas.
My immediate response was one of joy: Hello Gorgeous!!
Steven Simmons is the author of the novel Body Blows and a critical study of Jean-Luc Godard, “Modernisms” in Film. His work has appeared in Artforum, The Bay Guardian, Film Comment, Harper’s, and Vanity Fair, among other publications.