EKSTROM UNBOUND: Artist and UCSB College of Creative Studies professor Linda Ekstrom is perhaps best known for what she has done to the Bible. Her sculptural creations based on the shredding and reconstituting of actual Bibles into hard spheres, soft pillows, and other suggestive shapes, however, are only one small part of Ekstrom’s broad-ranging practice in relation to religion and to the idea of the book.
In Labyrinth, her current show running through April 28 at Jane Deering Gallery, Ekstrom heads in a new direction, albeit one that originates in the pages of a different sort of book — one cataloguing the world’s most intriguing and extensive outdoor physical labyrinths. Over the last few years, Ekstrom has been opening this special volume (borrowed from UCSB’s Davidson Library on a series of long-term faculty loans) and using it as a kind of automatic stimulus for her drawing practice. With her left, non-drawing hand, Ekstrom traces the contours of one of the plates in her labyrinths book. With her right, drawing hand, Ekstrom mimics the pattern twice, once on the way in, with a pen, in ink, and then again on the way out, with a pencil, in graphite. It’s a fanciful yet concrete way of making these distant spaces into physical realities in the present. By moving through the labyrinth of Ekstrom’s body, from one hand to the other, sacred networks of passage and occlusion that exist in real space elsewhere become phantoms circulating in the labyrinth of the human nervous system. The results are mesmerizing double images that suggest both architectural and mental space. Does the right hand ever really know what the left hand is doing? Get to Labyrinth and decide for yourself.
SPLISH SPLASH: Meanwhile, several Funk Zone venues celebrated openings on Friday, April 5. At MichaelKate, the current show of four painters is called Birds and Other Flying Contraptions. It features work by Renée Fox, Glynis Chaffin-Tinglof, Erika Carter, and Jim Hodgson. Carter’s brilliant new series employs a high degree of contrast and a selective suppression of detail to create images of birds at rest on branches that read as realistic in their dimensions from across the big MichaelKate space. The effect is dramatic and very Hitchcock. Also of great interest in this show are Hodgson’s amazing post-Audubon species portraits. Painted entirely from observation, without the aid of photos or sketches, these painstaking works are fascinating and unforgettable. Hodgson’s “Great Horned Owl” is one of the most impressive paintings shown in Santa Barbara this year. Someone give this man a solo show.
Diagonally across the intersection of Yanonali and Santa Barbara streets, at the Arts Fund, there’s another great group show going on through May 18. Splash gathers work by Benjamin Anderson, Cayetana “Tani” Conrad, Rick Stich, and Blakeney Sanford into one big and compelling pool party. Sanford’s giant sculpture/installation “Big Splash” (2013) clearly represents a defining moment in the evolution of the Funk Zone aesthetic. Epoxy resin, fiberglass screen, steel, and spectra come together in a curving shape that, from certain angles, envelops the viewer. For most of us, this is the closest we’ll ever come to the expert surfer’s nirvana of getting barreled by an overhead wave.
Conrad’s paintings, although similarly concerned with water, crackle with a different kind of energy — that of sparkling sunlight. Her studies of bathers assuming acrobatic positions in swimming pools reveal not only the grace and poetry of the human form in water but also her exquisite sensitivity to the pool’s reflective surface as a medium for the play of light. It’s an interest that goes back at least as far as her undergraduate training, when she studied theatrical lighting as a student at New York University. These are terrific California paintings. Why not trade up by giving that sun-bleached David Hockney poster to your nephew and hanging Conrad’s “Leap Side Splash” in your pool house this spring?