San Diego

John Baldessari, Jack Boyd

La Jolla Museum of Art; Orr's Gallery

The San Diego Art Guild’s first All-California Exhibition at the Fine Arts Gallery (it used to be called, and restricted to, California South) is a striking and provocative show, despite the fact that juror Wayne Thiebaud has unfortunately selected some “junk” along with a lot of high-quality work in weeding 100 paintings, sculptures and drawings out of 600 entries from artists throughout the state. The show is intriguing, nonetheless, and has some interesting characteristics. It is dominated by San Diego and Los Angeles artists. Although he’s a painterly painter himself, Thiebaud has picked paintings that are almost unanimously flat. Less surprising, a majority of the pieces are figurative—and the abstract pictures are for the most part pedestrian. Conspicuously absent, except for one or two of their “offspring,” are Pop and Op and Expressionism. Hard-edge makes a feeble appearance with a couple of so-so canvases.

With a few exceptions, figurative paintings and drawings, or works with at least figurative references, carry the show. In the area of abstraction, the best choice is Thomas Akawie’s Luncheon, a small acrylic with an assortment of tiny, tidy, softly-hued geometrics under glass. Also worth mentioning are a huge, symmetrical black, white and red canvas by Masatoyo Kishi; Song of The Social Plow, a bright blue and white watercolor that looks like paper collage by Ronald Pusich; a gentle circular-angular nonobjective painting by Ruth Rippner; Jan Siegel’s Swimmer, a big canvas-and-acrylic collage; and Dark Light, a finely toned and ruggedly textured relief-like piece by Louis Gutierrez.

In the figurative department there is a broad range of approaches—from traditional to tasteless. The most “realistic” painting is Charles Faust’s marvelously textured A World Whose Ultimate Reaches Know No Bounds—a detailed wooden man wearing leather harness and insect-like wings. Ed Carrillo’s powerful Cabin In The Sky is a superb bit of fantasy-Surrealism in which a classical temple floats in a swirling sky above a red mesa, stone walls, and a giant rabbit, squirrel and seashell. John Dawson’s First Base Box has a wonderfully drawn and painted baseball and glove, a female torso and a child’s blocks with adult decorations against a painterly muted orange background. Ethel Greene’s poignant Long Distance has excellent color and space balances interrupted by a sad reclining figure. In  Child Running, James Meredith has six panels of the same figure, each done in a different style, from hard-edge to collage. A vague pencil and acrylic nude adorns the top half of a gleaming aluminum construction that reflects the viewer and his background in William Tunberg’s large Wintergarden 43. The show’s conversation piece is Jack Stuck’s Self Portrait-Hernia, three panels of an explicit nude male torso in various stages of affliction and remedy.

The sculptures are distressingly disappointing, but with some saving graces: John Battenberg’s ultra-realistic Lushed Ace, a jauntily reclining cast aluminum World War I aviator’s tunic and helmet; Metamorphosis, a wonderfully rusted abstract steel piece by Joe Nyiri; and Bob Arneson’s hilariously obscene, shiny bronze Tilted Lady, which is good for comic relief if nothing else.

The recently painted Fragments by John Baldessari, one of San Diego’s best avant-garde artists, constitute an offbeat one-man show at the La Jolla Museum of Art. Baldessari’s fragments are free forms of all sorts and sizes cut from sheets of aluminum, left flat or bent and folded, hand or spray painted with swaths, stripes and spots of bright acrylics over a prime coat of zinc chromate—and finally meticulously positioned, singly or in related groups, in the gallery. Although most of them are non-objective, a few bear definite allusions to anatomy—a section of finger or leg, for example—and such mundane materials as plumbing fixtures. Baldessari got the idea for this series from Roman wall fragments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He achieves the incidental with these isolated segments of form and color, and escapes from the traditional squares and rectangles of easel painting.

In these curious, strangely elegant, unframed and untitled “paintings,” there is the tension of emptiness versus activity, of color versus white. Their bends and folds also create subtle shadows and shifting light effects. The majority have large areas of white offset by patches of pure, flat color on which dots of another hue are frequently and rather randomly superimposed. In some there are also numbers and lettering. Baldessari’s spots are not optical, but they do provide surface activity and one gets a sense of time progression between their busy clusters. The large dots are painted “by hand,” the little ones are applied with the eraser end of a pencil and other stamps devised by the artist, who sometimes smudges and sandpapers the spots to disfigure their shapes and colors.

Jack Boyd, one of San Diego’s most skilled and successful young (31) sculptors, has at Orr’s Gallery a solo show of figurative and abstract steel sculptures. While he occasionally incorporates a found object or two, in most of his pieces Boyd starts from scratch: with rod and sheet steel and molds his own forms and surfaces from beginning to end. His final product is heat-blued and oiled for the splendid dark patinas and subtle textural refinements that typify his work. The bulk of Boyd’s sculptures are graceful, slender, highly stylized nude human forms, two to four feet tall, engaged in some form of physical activity—dancing, running, leaping, etc. There is in all of them great rhythm and motion. Among the most striking are three figures of a boy finding, releasing and lamenting the loss of a bird, and a man—Junk Artist—standing on a delightful pile of formed and found steel.

Content is Boyd’s prime consideration, with solid-space relationships a close second. He plans his open areas as carefully as he molds his forms, often exaggerating and elongating limbs and torsos to achieve the proper balance between structure and space.

Marilyn Hagberg