The new show at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club, Twins, represents a pooling of talents by two Susans — Susan Tibbles and Susan Bush. These are the women who invited the artists and judged the awards, respectively. The show includes lots of assemblage work but is friendly to painting, as well, and the result is so wide-ranging and inclusive it could be understood as a kind of twin to the Santa Barbara art scene. Even artists who were not on the walls were in the Santa Barbara Tennis Club for the crowded opening, and several of them wore twin outfits, adding overt surrealism to the uncanny effect of seeing so many objects at once devoted to the subject of twins. Assemblage artist Shawn K. Riley took home the award for best in show for a construction called “Aunt Carrie’s Twins” that takes its title from the handwritten inscription at the top of a photo in its center. There are two children in the photo, yes, but there are also two levels of twins, as over the top of the photo, attached to frame, sits a Brownie camera, presumably the type with which it was taken, thus twinning the picture with its source. Affixed to a strip of green and white checkerboard backing, and supported by a kind of sconce/handle, Riley’s found photo becomes the point of departure for an entirely different way of looking than it served when its inscription was originally made.
Right nearby on the same stretch of wall is Erika Carter’s painting “Hermanas Gemelas,” which received honorable mention. Carter’s dream women deserve to be the presiding spirits of the exhibition as they overflow with mystery and romance. Go further in that same direction, and you’ll find another honorable mention, Roxanne Acquiline’s assemblage work “Petunias.” With its quiet intensity and delicate range of meaning, “Petunias” sends ripples of awareness through the viewer — one of the hallmark effects of the great modern art tradition of assemblage.
What is it about Santa Barbara that has created such a fertile scene for assemblage artists? Is there just more junk here? That may be so, but it hardly explains how many people in this city have done great work in this multimedia form. From Tony Askew to Dug Uyesaka, through Barbara McIntyre, Dan Levin, and Anne Luther, and on to Susan Tibbles herself, an alphabetical list of strong figures among us who work in this idiom goes on and on.
Maybe it’s got something to do with the way that Marcel Duchamp’s influence cruised north after his first American retrospective in Pasadena in the early 1960s. It’s definitely connected to the fact that so many nodes of assemblage knowledge have taken root in our schools and colleges, thus offering young people the opportunity to recycle odd bits of stuff into art for credit. The Solstice Parade is in the mix somewhere, as is our city’s long history of supporting inventors and engineers. And of course Art From Scrap, our incredible DIY materials and idea source, makes it easy for anyone who’s interested to advance in this form of self-expression.
Talking with Barbara “BB” McIntyre at the Twins opening, though, I was struck by yet another facet of this Santa Barbara assemblage phenomenon, which was that it offers people an approach to the unknown. McIntyre, who was represented by “Double Vision,” a piece that featured aluminum, copper rivets, and steel, had just returned from an eight-week workshop in metals at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. “I loved it,” she told me. “Metal was the one material I still had to conquer.”