A thread of interplay between two and three-dimensionality is one of the most distinctive elements of a new collaborative exhibition: Abstractions, Contractions, Intersections that brings together painter Francis Scorzelli and sculptor Joan Rosenberg-Dent. Rather than relying on the viewer to ascribe emotional meaning, or using divisive ideological snippets, these pieces are intrinsically valuable because of their optical wit. The exhibition runs September 23-November 26 at GraySpace, 219 Gray Avenue, in the heart of the Funk Zone.
As part of a growing movement of Santa Barbara–centric artists with a shared vision of their idyllic community, the works featured in the show epitomize an emotional response to the menacing media culture of the times. A sophisticated palette of aubergine, poppy, and periwinkle pours emotion into the hard angles and swerving lines that bonded Rosenberg-Dent and Scorzelli’s singular vision for the series.
Distinctly aloof from the mainstream, these artworks embody a parallel world in which optical optimism reigns supreme. Rosenberg-Dent is primarily a whimsical ceramic sculptor and Scorzelli is an abstract painter; they worked in tandem over the better part of a year to create this series of 15 painting-sculptures that embrace and deindustrialize various elements of the cityscape, while reworking them in a characteristically Californian style. Pieces such as “Art in the Square” recall Kazimir Malevich’s suprematist paintings, but with enhanced features that bring to mind the Milan-based Memphis group and its visionary leader, Peter Shire.
“Window Box” is perhaps the centerpiece of the show; its gloriously painstaking cut-canvas flowers each took Scorzelli longer to create than a single one of his large-scale works. No shape is repeated, and each side of the flower has its own palette and design, so the work is infinitely engaging. The effect is a visual euphoria of awe at its fine craftsmanship, with currents of humor at its psychedelic rendering.
Scorzelli’s canvas portion of “Griffith Park” is one of a handful of small sketch paintings that were created prior to the collaboration’s inception. In 2006, the two artists were featured in a group show together at the Corridan Gallery on Milpas Street; it was then and there that the two artists recognized the parallels in their styles and agreed that a collaboration could make for an interesting body of work. They had little communication as they worked, simply passing their works-in-progress back and forth and then marveling at the end results, which often shared remarkable similarities.
Both of these lifelong artists are also academically trained. Rosenberg-Dent holds three degrees, including a master’s in fine arts from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Scorzelli studied at the Maharishi University of Management, formerly known as Maharishi International University, during its formative years. It’s clear that Josef Albers’s color theory and screen-print-based color exercises were highly influential on Scorzelli. He creates unique, self-contained color worlds in his loft studio; from the dining chairs to the railings and of course all of his paintings, the style of the space evokes a beatnik sensibility that’s somewhat at odds with a town so full of sun-worshipping solidarity. Meanwhile, at Rosenberg-Dent’s Montecito studio, daylight pours in from the sun above and as reflected in the ocean below. Her “white cube” minimalist home is punctuated by pops of verdant hues and a fine balance of abstract and Asian art; she muses, “It just came together, like magic.”
The generous scale of the works and the yellow center dividing line from the ceiling of the gallery out to the street combine to transform Charlene Broudy’s minimalist gallery space into a high-impact sensation. Abstractions, Contractions, Intersections pays homage to the pleasures and madness of a modern life, and brushes existential anxieties aside with the lightness of a cloud.