FOCUSING IN: Given the success of 1st Thursdays as a way to get people motivated about Arts district centered around the intersection of State and Carrillo Streets, it only makes sense that the now-gelling scene in the Funk Zone should choose a time slot in which to make its pitch for mass attendance. The Focus on the Funk Zone event that took place back in October represented one kind of attempt at consolidating the action, but last Friday’s triple header of openings will probably be more indicative of the direction this neighborhood is pursuing. As far as the goal of getting bodies into galleries goes, the evening was a resounding success. At the height of Friday’s foot traffic — sometime around 7 p.m. — I witnessed a crowd of more than 50 people enter MichaelKate within the space of a few minutes. That’s child’s play in the world of the performing arts — at any given moment, there are that many people using the bathroom at a Santa Barbara Bowl show — but in the arena of the visual arts, these numbers are significant. What’s even more important is something that one of the most active supporters of the visual arts in Santa Barbara whispered to me as we both watched the throng disperse into the cavernous MichaelKate showroom — “Wow, these are new faces!”
Fortunately, the quality of the art on display, and the excitement Santa Barbara’s visual artists are generating for the institutions currently supporting them, fully justifies the hype. For example, at The Arts Fund, where the 3-D show featured six artists, all of them sculptors who either have worked or are currently working in the Funk Zone, the range was wide, the execution strong, and the resonance deep. Blake Rankin’s abstracted human figures were cut in limestone at the studio on Helena Avenue that the young artist shared until recently with Donald Davis, whose elegant works in the form of geometrically striated cones were also in the show. Rankin and Davis are both modernists in the classical sense, using abstraction to give objective shape to ideal forms. Ro Snell’s sculptural objects exist on another plane, although they, too, derive some of their force from the impulse toward the abstract. Snell is a longtime contributor to the Santa Barbara art scene in many roles, including gallerist and curator in addition to artist, and her meticulous use of a variety of materials both natural and manmade results in pleasingly enigmatic pieces that are both balanced and thought-provoking.
Skye Gwilliam’s instantly recognizable brand of street-influenced art made a good counter to the more elegantly finished work discussed above. He certainly knows how to make good use of detritus. No one in town is handier with a discarded door than Gwilliam, or more in touch with the spirit of Jean-Michel Basquiat — except maybe Neal Crosbie. Tom Long’s delicious pop versions of totem poles looked great alongside the Gwilliams, like guests at a particularly freewheeling sculpture party. And across the room, Xarene Eskandar’s lovely and mind-bending “Other Worlds” project manifested itself in some photographs and a distinctly otherworldly sweater. Eskandar is one to watch — she’s Santa Barbara’s answer to Matthew Barney.
Over at MichaelKate, Brad Nack has assembled another outstanding show that demonstrates his comprehensive knowledge of and connections within the community of abstract painters working in Southern California between 1965 and today. This group show, which features Santa Barbaran Dug Uyesaka alongside Los Angeles artists Gary Palmer and Sheldon Figoten, and the New Mexico-based Dara Mark, is big, bold, and colorful, making it a perfect complement to the elegant modern furniture on the showroom floor. Three of the four artists were able to make the scene and speak on a panel. Finally, over at wall space gallery, dealer Krista Dix was out of town for Art Basel Miami, but her able crew carried on without her, showing a holiday mix of affordable prints by top photographers and offering both studio portraits and a photo booth to entertain the revelers. Long live the funk.