California Dreamin’ in Miami
By Elisa Turner
The exhibit “IMPACT: Emotions of Color” at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in Coral Gables does indeed pack a stunning, colorful impression. Expertly hung and lit, with plenty of room for the 32 paintings by five artists to breathe so that viewers are not bombarded with a surfeit of visual stimuli, it presents the California infused work of Lisa Bartleson, Casper Brindle, Ned Evans, Andy Moses and Suzan Woodruff.
These artists are clearly heir to the ground-breaking accomplishments of California artists showcased in the much discussed recent series of exhibitions collectively titled “Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945-1980.” This was a major collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions throughout Southern California. Together, they told the story of how the Los Angeles art scene came of age, eventually to pack its own sizable impression on the art world. These exhibitions took place from October 2011 to April 2012 and were initiated by the Getty Foundation and Getty Research Institute, with programs totaling more than $11 million.
So yes, we all know now, even if we did not quite get it before, that numerous California artists have made history, including those whose names we might not have encountered in standard art books. Veteran Coral Gables dealer Virginia Miller has brought to South Florida a savory taste of the Getty initiated West Coast art extravaganza by presenting work by artists too young to be part of “Pacific Standard Time.”
And what a taste this is. You can practically taste and smell the salt in the air, bask in golden sunlight morphing into lavender sunsets, hear waves pounding, see the excellent cresting surf that has seduced at least two generations of surfer artists in Southern California. Dazzling paintings by Andy Moses, which evoke swirling ocean currents glinting with light, particularly exemplify this link between being born to surf and born to make art. Real California guys, it would seem, can do both with dashing savoir faire, thank you very much.
Born in Los Angeles in 1962, Moses grew up surfing in places such as Santa Monica and Malibu while also hanging out in the artcentric milieu of his father, Ed Moses, now celebrated as one of the pioneering California artists of the postwar generation along with Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, James Turrell and Ed Ruscha.
Many artists active in that time and place are grouped in the “Finish Fetish” and “Light and Space” movements unique to Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s. These movements helped put Los Angeles on the map in the art world, recasting Pop Art and Minimalism with an L.A. love for gleaming cars and motorcycles, impeccably crafted surfboards, and Hollywood’s dream-and-fantasy factory. While manifested in different ways in the work of various artists, generally these movements cultivated a focus on immaculately produced surfaces and conceptual works exploring the process of visual perception. Art of this time and place also reflected a rebellious defiance of Southern California’s military industrial complex. Additionally, a sense of California’s brilliant and quicksilver light suffused many of these artworks, as it does today in the “IMPACT” show at Art Space Virginia Miller Galleries, so clearly in synch with the Los Angeles aesthetic.
Consider, for example, Morphology 601 (2012) by Moses. It’s a riveting abstraction that brings to mind swirling ocean currents as well as a dusky cloudscape blurring gracefully into twilight, yet all the while it is clearly an immaculately smooth surface shimmering with subtle gradations of color. His Akaringa (2009), also in this exhibit, demonstrates the delicious optical illusion of physically shifting color, which he creates by ingeniously working with a concave canvas.
The luminous interchange of light and color also fascinates Suzan Woodruff, although her approach to abstraction yields a greater sense of depth than found in works by Moses. Her paintings, never betraying the expressionist messiness of brushstrokes, often give viewers the bizarre illusion that they are looking through vaporous clouds or gazing down through deepening “layers” of water in the ocean, in which the color of the water becomes darker the further it is from sunlight above sea level. Her Water Dreams (2007) evokes a compelling confluence of light, air and water. At the top of the painting, there are pale silvery green patches, catching the eye with their luxurious opalescence. These contrast with the deeper shades of blue, evoking ocean depths or indigo twilights, converging near the lower portions of the painting.
Casper Brindle, Lisa Bartleson, and Ned Evans convey a keen, if not obsessive, sense of craftsmanship in their richly colored abstractions. This craftsmanship is clearly in line with the “Finish Fetish” aesthetic of earlier California artists, yet these later artists make this sensibility their own. In Stratum 4 (2010), Brindle achieves the impressive trick of making a gleaming rectangle of saturated yellow appear both resolutely flat and somehow evocative of indeterminate depth, as if one could gaze into the mysterious recesses of golden sunlight bathing the concrete wall of a nondescript apartment building or an unearthly calm ocean at midday. A simple maple strip of wood cleanly divides this painting in half, suggesting the horizon line separating sea and sky, a horizon line ever visible to coastal dwellers enamored with sun and surf.
Bartleson’s works of mixed media and resin on panel are created with innumerable tiny rectangles of plastic positioned to form expanding concentric circles in subtle gradations of color. These rectangles form a roseate shape at the center of her work. Some suggest misty aureoles of light surrounding the moon on a cloudy night or mandalas. Scale XXXX Sphere X (2011), with silvery gray shapes blending into subtle shades of violet and blue, may even bring to mind the overwhelming spirituality conveyed by “The Rose,” a massively legendary work composed mainly of one ton of white and gray paint by San Francisco Beat painter Jay DeFeo, obsessively created during the years 1959 to 1966.
Surely the “Senior Surfer” in this bunch, Evans moved to Venice, California, in the early 1960s and fell in thrall to the area’s twin siren calls to surf and make art. He not only surfed throughout Baja California but worked with abstract painter Billy Al Bengston, whose legacy was one of many recognized by the recent spate of exhibits in “Pacific Standard Time.” At Virginia Miller are numerous examples of Evans’ gently geometric abstract paintings, perhaps recalling vertical shafts of light as they intersect and pierce mammoth cresting waves or forested mountains of the Golden State. The paintings can, at times, seem as if the artist has overworked a familiar composition. Particularly interesting in this selection is the most recent painting on panel with the intriguing shape of an elongated oval. This is Otto (2010). (Three other smaller paintings on panel from 2010
are circular-shaped.) A dynamic variation on earlier work in this exhibit, it thickly but oh-so-gracefully layers muscular striations in fleshy shades of red and orange, almost like a cross-section of sinewy muscles needed to power through both waves and paint.
A gallery exhibit showcasing California imports in the Greater Miami area inevitably leads to this question: Why don’t art venues here collaborate to tell the story of the expanding Miami art scene? Such a collaboration in Miami, says Bill DuPriest of ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, “is a logical extension of what this is all about.” Given the presence in Miami of the Knight Foundation, a major national foundation with increasing interest in the arts, it would seem that perhaps such a concept is indeed possible and could attract other significant funders. Surely no one can expect the journalism focused Knight Foundation to do all the heavy lifting that the Getty Foundation and the Getty Research Institute were recently able to accomplish with “Pacific Standard Time.”
Then again, Miami may not be quite ready or mature enough for such a bold, collaborative move. It is no doubt typical of southern California’s mighty cultural resources that the superb show “Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by José Bedia” at the Miami Art Museum was organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA. This outstanding exhibit, highlighting perhaps Miami’s best known artist, runs from May 24 through September 2, 2012, at MAM, which is set to reopen in the fall of 2013 in downtown Miami’s Museum Park as the Pérez Art Museum Miami.
When the name and location of the city’s central art museum are still evolving, it looks as though the chance to make history will have to wait.
(March 2 – July 31, 2012)
Elisa Turner teaches at Miami Dade College and is Miami correspondent for ARTnews. She has written for Arte Al Día, Art+Auction, ArtReview and The Miami Herald.