DECONSTRUCTION ZONE: Now through December 10, you can find 10 absorbing and sophisticated paintings by California artist Daniel Dove on view at SBCC’s Atkinson Gallery (721 Cliff Dr.). These works are at once landscapes and abstractions, surrealist and representational. Dove holds an MFA in painting from Yale, and it’s obvious that he is schooled in everything from classical approaches to perspective and shadow to postmodern art theory. What’s fascinating about Dove’s work is the recurrence of certain themes: gas station signs, cars, and airplanes—all symbols of America’s oil dependency—and the way he stages these subjects so as to unsettle the question of representation.
In “Vanishing Point” (2010), the cylindrical cabin of a Frontier Airlines jet appears as if in a warehouse, its surface peeled away in places to expose a steel frame. Shards of metal litter the floor beneath it, although they look like paper, thus unsettling our confidence that what we’re seeing is what it purports to be. Similarly, the dramatic rocky cliffs painted on the jet’s belly are torn apart and thereby shown as what they are—mere representations.
It’s a similar story in “69 AMX” (2009), in which the car in question appears on a billboard high above a distant city. A thick steel post at the base reassures us of what we’re seeing at the same time that the image itself unsettles any certainty, its peeling layers in some places showing through to a deep blue twilit sky. Once again, this representation of a representation is peeling apart, and failing to provide a solid image. The image of the billboard reappears in “Cowboy,” where a man’s grim face glows orange and yellow on a giant flat surface hovering over a distant landscape. Yet the background shifts in places, dissolving from one thing to another. There’s a sense of being duped, manipulated—being shown a hologram or an illusion. Dove’s paintings are beautiful, and beautifully tricky.
SOAPBOX MUSINGS: Across town at Art Resources (512 E. Haley St.) now through December 9, you’ll find a great number of works on paper by poet Barry Spacks, whose approach to visual art is as playful as Dove’s is heady. For those who aren’t familiar with Spacks, he’s known around town as Santa Barbara’s first poet laureate, a professor of literature, and the kind of guy who brings his own peculiar brand of levity wherever he goes. His delight in language and its power to evoke both humor and reflection is evident in these recent mixed-media works, most of which employ collage techniques. Many of them include poetic phrases, either as titles by which to “read” the work or as longer passages. Reads the cryptic “Heart-Breaking Valentine”: “You broke my little violin / You ate my cheese / But I still love you wistfully / Come join us in the Arguowski Valley.” In it, a woman gazes mournfully into the distance. Behind her, a smiley face composed of strips of paper beams in radiant yellows and greens.
In some cases, Spacks’s sense of humor is reminiscent of the quasi-philosophical musings of another area artist and wordsmith: Ashleigh Brilliant. “This Will Explain Nearly Everything,” claims one such work (“I’m a Great Man, in Disguise”). Yet amid the gleeful tomfoolery (“You Know You Want to Kiss Me,” reads the trucker’s cap balanced atop a lurid pink face with meaty lips) and the intentionally enigmatic (the whiskers and eyes of “Philosophical Cat” emerge Lewis Carroll-like from a background of deep reds), there are works that command you to pause and drop in deeper. Among them is “Pissed Off Clown,” whose sad yet menacing saucer eyes stare from beneath a hat like a newspaper boat. And then there’s “Momma’s Boy with Stuff,” a wide-eyed, squashed-headed little person framed by a penumbra of scraps of painted paper. In works like these, comedy and tragedy collide and yield something at once subtler and more enduring.
Those who want to experience yet another layer of Spacks’s work should attend the closing night reception on Thursday, December 9, from 7-9 p.m., when poetry readings and music will complete the picture.