The spirit of Ken Nack, the artist and collagist, hovers over In the Big Room, an exhibition at the MichaelKate showroom in the Funk Zone featuring new paintings and images by 22 area artists.
Curated by his son, artist Brad Nack, who seems to be a major hub of the Santa Barbara art scene, In the Big Room channels his father’s blissful love of creation and provides a wide swath of eclectic Southern California artists and art-goers a communal “big room” for savoring new work.
Although the late Ken Nack’s two small works “Chesme” and “Flight to Egypt” (from the ’70s) make up only a small portion of the show, all the artists here share his joy in making art. Artists include Laurie MacMillan, Dug Uyesaka, Erik Reel, Allan Gibbons, Melissa Mahoney, Isabella Kelly-Ramirez, Linda Saccoccio, Diane Giles, Wallace Piatt, Marlene Struss, Holly Mackay, Christa Lyons, Heather Boyd, Karin Aggeler, Wayne Hoffman, Ken and Brad Nack, Sheldon Figoten, Tara Patrick, Carol Paulson, Dan Levin, and Skye Gwilliam.
There is so much diversity here that it’s impossible to categorize the whole exhibition except to say that it’s an overwhelming demonstration of painting’s exuberance. Many of the abstract painters represented—and there are quite a few—are members of the recently formed Abstract Art Collective. Their work is particularly suited to the nontraditional exhibition space.
There’s the rhythmic form of color and graphic asymmetry in the work of Karin Aggeler whose natural contours might recall the colors that whirr pass while driving up Highway 101. Other examples of abstraction include the ritualistic Enso, or Zen circle, paintings of Melissa Mahoney, Eric Reel’s cryptic calligraphy as exemplified in his painting “Cyberia,” and Marlene Struss’s paramecium-like shapes in earthen greens and reds that look like single-cell creatures bumping into each other under a microscope.
The jet-age life comes vibrantly alive in the appropriated magazine imagery of Allan Gibbons’s “Concorde,” and there’s Heather Boyd’s ecstatic collage work, derived from her grandmother’s old National Geographic magazines that she pored over as a child.
The diversity continues with Holly Mackay’s photorealistic diptych portraits; Tara Patrick’s painting that depicts an androgynous devil with antlers rising in a red forest; Wallace Pitt’s large pop art, silk-screened, and print-filled iconic images; and Brad Nack’s own minimalist Mona Lisa–like serigraph portraits, as well as many more.
But delve deep to the back of the exhibition, and you’ll find an absolute gem—Carol Paulsen’s joyous “Bear Liberation Party.” Here, bears balance rocks, walk a tightrope, and perform hula-hoop tricks in the hills of Los Osos. It’s a vivid imagining of the kind of celebration that bears might have when hunting season is called off. Nothing could exemplify the creative spirit fostered by Ken Nack more than the sheer joy of these bears—and these artists, as well.