San Francisco

San Francisco

An engaging selection of polymer-media painted wall plaques by James W. McManus recently exhibited at the Ala Gallery (Arlene Lind Associates) resembled large, flat, ingeniously conceived cutouts, while their surfaces provided the grounds for dynamic geometric designs in automobile paints and lacquers, exploiting in novel and inventive ways tensions generated by optical counterpoint with the complex edge-shapes or two-dimensional “silhouettes” of the plaques. Within the simple limitations of this plaque format, McManus demonstrates keen resourcefulness. In much more than the edge-pattern or silhouette of the plaque as a whole does he exploit the many possible potentialities of the wall surrounding the plaques. Often, for example, a patterned aperture in the plaque permits the wall to function as “negative shape,” while the edges of the plaques are frequently utilized for subtly contrived ambiguities between real shadow and penumbric bands of dark paint.

McManus has clearly given much attention to research and experiment in the theory and mechanics of optical illusion, for, in a small selection of drawings, serigraphs and other graphic and mixed-media works included in his show he propounds black and white geometric compositions exploring variations on formulas of optical deception frequently found in textbooks on psychological optics for conjuring patterns which at first seem plausible as two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional figures, but which analytical inspection reveals to be spatially impossible visual paradoxes. Like Mr. Zarens, whose intriguing constructions in plastics were exhibited at this gallery earlier in the season, Mr. McManus is a Westerner who completed his art studies at the University of Washington and currently holds a post on the art department faculty of Chico State College in California.

Also pursuing hard-edge geometricism, but in much less startling ways is James Suzuki whose paintings recently shown at the Quay Gallery explore in a tasteful, lyrical, but essentially decorative way, methods now almost classic and stemming from well-established conventions and theories of color-stripe painting. In Mr. Suzuki’s compositions bands of color, which begin/end as horizontal stripes at the vertical edges of the canvas, curve through a somewhat bulbous arc in midcourse, as it were, with some of the lines arcing upward and some downward in mirror-opposition, so that opposing pairs of bands generate a shape resembling a linear schematization of the outlines of an old-fashioned cathode-ray tube. This shape, then, delineated in terms of color bands, is the theme-motif for the many variations which comprised Mr. Suzuki’s recent show, and which ranged from the simplest statement to densely meshed overlapping sequences of the motif’s two component elements. Mr. Suzuki combines bright, primary colors with Byzantine exuberance and yet with no apparent attempt to create optical flashes and vibrancies or the familiar pulsating transpositions of color-space depth usually associated with stripe painting. Likewise, too, he has occasionally introduced straight bands traversing the canvas at various tangents to the horizontal tube-with-bulge motif without creating the optical tensions usually associated with such devices; these compositions tend to remain flat, somewhat placid designs propounded on a rectangularly bounded two-dimensional surface. Perhaps for Mr. Suzuki to have achieved static equilibrium with such potentially volatile ingredients of palette and geometry could hardly have been accidental and was in itself the tour de force to which these apparent exercise-variations were intentionally devoted.

In examining the recent paintings of Vincent Perez at the Arleigh Gallery one was once more confronted with experiments in extending painting beyond the confines of the flat, rectangularly bounded, static surface through the use of devices involving multiple and articulate surfaces—devices which nonetheless remained subordinately vehicular to the environmental and modular extension of painting, and in no sense encroached upon the realm of painted mobile sculpture. Curiously, one of these devices drew upon ancient precedent inasmuch as it was essentially but a novel adaptation of the familiar hinged triptych in which the two end panels are each half the width of the central panel and so disposed on hinges as to be capable of closing over it, like doors. Perez’s use of this format was illustratively integral to the subject matter of the painting, entitled Car Door III, in which both sides of the end panels were painted upon in such a way that in closed position one saw the side surface of a station-wagon passenger cabin reflecting on its shiny surface a row of typical San Francisco Mission District wood-frame cottages, and, in open position, the car’s interior. Interestingly, even the tapering of the outer edges of the end panels, graphically conforming to the slope of windshield and back of the car, alluded formally to the tapering, gothic window shape frequently found in ancient triptych icons. An earlier work, Car Door II presented a diptych variation on the same theme. In his large “standing mural” entitled The Maze, mounted within an elaborate aluminum framework, Perez carries the triptych format into less traditional and more inventive variation; each of three panels swivels freely on pivots within a sectional grid-scaffolding of aluminum bars extending sufficiently beyond the plane of edge-to-edge alignment of the panels on either side to accommodate the arc of their rotation. Each panel is painted on both sides so that the triptych as a whole has eight combinational modes, each with an “obverse” and a “reverse” variant. The uprights of the aluminum grid are repeated in the painting itself, which is a study in fractured imagery as in a labyrinthine maze of mirrors. Maze-like grids and fractured imagery are a favorite theme for formal variation in Perez’s work, occurring in some of his canvases of conventional surface-format such as Jungle Gym.

At the Hansen Gallery an extensive series of small pastel drawings by Thomas Brozovich were somewhat overprecious in their exploitation of the muted colors and other resources and refinements germane to the pastel medium and in their patent demonstration of self-consciously disciplined and fastidious draftsmanship. In content they comprised a monotonous and reiterative series of essays in well-worn modalities of phallic biomorphism—principally of the quasi-abstract-freeform, quasi-Surrealistic, “Freudian” dream-landscape idiom in which vistas overgrown with phallic vegetation feature topographical configurations such as hills, dunes and rocks that are full of redundant allusions to human sexual anatomy. Stylistically and in general concept this work would seem to have affinities with the anatomical landscape metaphors of Harry Lum, except that Lum’s landscapes are entirely gynandromorphic, whereas Brozovich’s pictures seem obsessively preoccupied with the penis.

A curtained off area of the gallery featured an arrangement of objects conceived and assembled by Harold Paris which consisted essentially of a row of lighted wax tapers in a plexiglass trough, surmounted at one end by an altar-like black pedestal supporting a rock-like freeform in opalescent plastic illuminated from within by lights of changing intensity and color in apparent synchronization with recorded “sound effects”—the sound or the simulated sound of a tube train roaring through an underground station, pure electronic sound-mixtures, etc. Ostensibly the chief purpose of this little “environment” was realized on the opening night of the exhibition when it served as stage set and props for a brief, quasi-mystical, ritual charade entitled Manifestation, enacted by Mr. Paris in the sort of white satin with rhinestones turban-and jacket “Swami” ensemble that one associates with cabaret hypnotism acts and rental costumes for masquerade parties—a costume which prior to the scheduled moment of the performance Mr. Paris had concealed under a flowing black cape.

Palmer D. French