Crocker Art Museum
Traditions/Innovations: Traditions/Innovations: Four Northern
California Artists, on exhibit June 6 through July 27, 1997 at the Herold
Gallery. American art today is often appreciated for its novelty-in subject
matter, technique, or style. Alongside this search for innovation, a number
of artists seek expressive means informed by tradition. Such references
characterize the work of a number of engaging artists working in Northern
California today. Troy Dalton, Stephen J. Kaltenbach, Hung Liu, and Brian
Tripp create compelling contemporary paintings and sculptures that reference
traditional art and literature. They draw upon sources as varied as Biblical
texts, classical antique sculpture, native Karok regalia from Northern California,
and historic photographs made in China.
- TROY DALTON
- Troy Dalton incorporates mythology and religion,
art masterpieces (both
- historical and modern), and natural science texts, in his complex
- paintings. Among Dalton's challenges in Sacrificial Bacchanal #1,
- describe his own hands and face in close proximity to each other. Here,
- with his fingers pulling down on his cheeks, the artist literally forces
- himself to see. The goat's head he balances in a brass pan is from
- National Geographic magazine, and the two figures in the background
- inspired by reproductions of Italian Baroque drawings. These are
- interpreted as paintings, with Dalton appreciating reproductions because
- they lack the presence of originals, and thus lend themselves to being
- developed anew. The shallow stage-like box, which exposes and confines
- the artist, is surrounded by brilliant brushstrokes. These acknowledge
- Dalton's admiration for abstract painting and make the figurative
- elements appear more strikingly realistic by contrast.
- (Above, Touch, 1996, acrylic on canvas)
- Dalton has explored a number of styles and themes in his work. He
- turned to figurative, allegorical subjects in the 1980s, and continued
- working with them after enrolling in graduate school at the University
- of California at Davis.
- Like many of his paintings, Desperately Seeking
- Expression in the Art Official was revised over many years.
It was first
- a landscape viewed through a wall. He set the painting aside after
- was damaged, and later added the mural of the pieta (taken from
- Bouguereau). Dalton then painted the female figures at the left from
- models. As he worked on the canvas, he covered the surface with black
- gesso, which he proceeded to belt sand and scrape until the images
- reappeared. He often uses this technique, which offers an additional
- of "making marks"-one that is subtractive rather than additive.
- Dalton added the foreground figure, he also painted in the rubber cow,
- which alludes to the Montana cattle ranch on which he was raised. Only
- later did he realize the reference to a "sacred cow" that
- object offers.
- (Above, The Birth of Cain, 1993, acrylic on canvas)
- The Birth of Cain is one of a series of paintings and drawings
- also makes large drawings, although not as studies and frequently
- following the paintings to which they relate) about Adam's first wife,
- Lilith. The painting was composed in part by working from the model
- using images from contemporary mass culture (Lilith's pose is adopted
- from a perfume advertisement in a magazine). Lilith is prominently
- tattooed, a treatment that allows Dalton to introduce additional
- information and challenges him to invent decoration on a
- three-dimensional surface. Dalton appreciates tattoos as being
- "incredibly beautiful," yet having a social stigma. He features
- egret on Lilith because it is noted for its voraciousness, and thus
- serves "as a foil to the serpent" lurking below. Such symbols
- The Birth of Cain, which also displays the artist's consummate
- draughtsmanship and sheer pleasure in painting.
- STEPHEN J. KALTENBACH
- Stephen J. Kaltenbach explores many media, including
- conceptual art, and painting. Recently, however, he has devoted
- considerable attention to sculpture to address conceptual issues that
- interest him.
- (Above, Arch of Triumph, 1988, clay and plaster)
- Kaltenbach's work is characterized by the ambitious ideas that underlie
- his pieces, many of which are studies or maquettes for monumental
- projects. For instance, Kaltenbach envisions executing a twelve-foot
- high version of Arch of Triumph where viewers could walk underneath
- extended arm. Although his forms resemble classical antique sculptures,
- Kaltenbach sculpts from models (using opportunities provided by the
- sculpture class he teaches at California State University, Sacramento).
- Here he also used images from muscle magazines for details. In Arch
- Triumph Kaltenbach seeks to express the "triumph of peacemakers
- warmongers... a sword attached to a bodiless arm is not very dangerous."
- This piece also is inspired by the Biblical passage "They will
- their swords into plowshares"; the sword piercing into the ground
- Kaltenbach explores this allusion in a very different format in Star
- Plow (1996). Painted on velvet, Star Plow is a conceptual
proposal for a
- nuclear poem, to be created by "retargeting the world's arsenal
- to spell the word 'JOY' in outer space." It represents the artist's
- vision that the military establishment might redeploy weapons as
- fireworks. The word "JOY" creates the shape of a plowshare,
- reinforces this alternative use of armaments.
- (Above, Proposal for a Dam, 1995, melamine plaster)
- Kaltenbach uses images of the Greek goddess Venus as metaphors for
- society's views of women. Derelict, for instance, transforms a Venus
- head into the hull of ship that has been left in a sandbar to rust,
- as elderly relatives, who are predominantly female, are placed in
- convalescent centers and forgotten. Kaltenbach describes Man Crying
- Artifact, with a male figure seated, despairing, on a Venus
head as a
- metaphorical image for personal challenges relating to women.
- Kaltenbach's references are more universal in Study for a Dam,
- combines miniature Greek kore figures, Japanese masks, and Indian temple
- statuary with the heads of Robert Arneson and Jackson Pollock. In
- compressing fragments of sculptures associated with many countries
- eras in a compact space, Kaltenbach seeks a "memorial to all
- civilizations." He perceives figure sculptures as symbolic of
- cultures, with fragments indicating both their achievements and demise.
- The dam form on which they appear offers an immense and unexpected
- surface for embellishment. It likewise embodies the potential for both
- positive and negative change, much as losses are incurred and gains
- in the successive rise and fall of civilizations.
- HUNG LIU
- Hung Liu uses historical photographs for paintings
that examine issues
- related to the history of China-and how others have perceived it. Liu
- uniquely qualified to examine such themes. She was born in Manchuria
- immigrated to the United States thirteen years ago. Her father was
- jailed as a political dissident shortly after her birth, and Liu was
- raised by her mother in Beijing. With the onset of the Cultural
- Revolution in 1966, she was sent to the provinces to labor in the fields
- for four years. Under these trying circumstances, she learned
- photography and secretly made small paintings. Upon returning to
- Beijing, she enrolled at the Central Academy of Fine Art. Its social
- realist curriculum placed emphasis on copying models, and because Liu
- was in the mural painting program, she was able to visit the caves
- Dunhuang in 1979-80, where she was impressed by the remarkable beauty
- the centuries-old "ghost images."
- Liu made slides of her work, and asked a friend who was studying at
- University of California at San Diego to share them with the art
- department. She was accepted into the graduate program, where the
- avant-garde art faculty included Allen Kaprow and David and Eleanor
- (above, Bitter Liver, 1997, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 inches,
- courtesy of Rena Bransten Gallery, photo: John Wilson White)
- Liu is interested in how women and children are perceived. She explores
- these themes through vintage photographs collected on return visits
- China and elsewhere. Among the historic photographs Liu uses are early
- 20th-century portraits of prostitutes. In recent paintings, Liu selected
- bust-length portraits from albums that were prepared in China for
- potential clients during the 1920s as her sources. Such books represent
- a collision of cultures, as models were often posed with cars or views
- of Niagara Falls. In addition, most of the photographs, such as the
- on which Bitter Liver is based, show the young girls as very
- Subjects are consciously posed to appear demure, even
- self-conscious, while simultaneously conveying their availability to
- viewer. Liu adopts the oval format of her photographic source, which
- asserts its historic character, and adds a male figure and a Song
- Dynasty acupuncture diagram at the right. The diagram chosen is one
- the liver, a source for Liu's title and also a reference for man's
- Liu amplifies sensual details-such as the pearl necklace and fan-and
- varies the treatment of her paint to create an exciting surface. Areas
- of impasto contrast with very dilute pigment that trickles down the
- canvas. Liu sees the streaks as analogous to how photographs (and
- memories) fade, noting that the Chinese word for "to develop"
- photographs is the same as that for "to wash."
- Liu views the advent of photography as a turning point in human
- representation, and has a continuing interest in how photographers
- "control" their subjects, especially when photographers portray
- other than their own. Liu addresses this confrontation in several
- canvases inspired by photographs taken by Joseph Rocks, which are
- published in Lamas, Princes and Brigands. Among them is a photograph
- a group of Tibetan hunters, who exhibit their trophy (a vulture) for
- camera. Their poses and apparel, and even the surrounding landscape,
- could easily be associated with the American West, forcing viewers
- consider how culture affects our perceptions. The unequal match of
- and prey also touches on contemporary issues about the relationship
- human beings and nature.
- BRIAN TRIPP
- The triangles, striations, and jagged lines that
dominate Brian Tripp's
- large-scale wall pieces repeat motifs from both the basketry and painted
- arrows of the Karok people of northwestern California. An honored Karok
- singer, dancer, and traditionalist, Tripp is instrumental to the
- continued vitality of his people's traditions, in addition to being
- highly regarded contemporary visual artist.
- (Above, He Shoulders the Load, 1996, mixed media, 36 x 48 x
- Tripp's work reflects his energy and openness to stimuli from many
- sources. These range from avant-garde art to forms that have been handed
- down for many generations in Karok regalia. He is similarly democratic
- in his choice of media, using materials as varied as china marker,
- paint, aluminum foil, street signs, glass, and wood. The Best Things
- Life Aren't Free gives evidence of the artist's restlessness
- tumult in his culture. Saliently, he tranposes the balanced shapes
- Karok regalia into jarring lines that communicate tension and upheaval.
- This disorder is reinforced by glistening sticks, covered with foil,
- shaped into dollar signs.
- (Above, Doing What Comes Naturally, mixed media)
- Tripp breaks rules: adding found objects, such as traffic signs, to
- surfaces his paintings; taking apart and reassembling his images; and
- appending irregular attachments that energize his compositions.
- In Aftershock, Tripp suspends six large figures composed of
pieces of found
- wood on a surface of boldly painted rectangles and triangles. The
- simplified figures, which take advantage of natural patterns of growth
- and wear on the wood, are haunting; some have sharply broken sticks
- arms, others are weighted down by rocks around their neck or torso.
- Aftershock conveys a sense of immediacy in its execution, with
- painted lines, streaking paint, and raw edges. And its title
- communicates the artist's socio-political intentions, making reference
- to an earthquake, and to how the Native Californian world was "shaken
- the core" when lands were taken and cultures subjugated by white
- intruders. Tripp identifies the central figure, with his hands tied
- behind his back, as signifying the impact of this invasion, while the
- personages that surround him stand upright and serve as protectors.
- Tripp also creates powerful installations and three-dimensional
- sculptures, such as He Shoulders the Load. Here the suspended
- bar serves as a yoke; its attachments, planks of wood, sticks, and
- stones-all painted an identical saturated red-represent all the various
- responsibilities that the figure must assume. Tripp says these include
- not only the commitments to family and a livelihood, but also the
- challenge of maintaining a threatened culture.
- Text and photos courtesy of Crocker Art Museum
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and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists
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