The only rule governing one of Santa Barbara’s most interesting ongoing curatorial collaborations has just been broken. When Brad Nack started organizing shows at the MichaelKate showroom on Santa Barbara Street, owner Michael McColm agreed to put his own considerable design expertise into the mix by rearranging the furniture each time to suit the show, but he did so on one condition — that there would be no traditional landscape paintings shown. McColm understandably felt that, given the “mid-century modern and beyond” style of the inventory on display in his store, the art on the walls should be largely abstract and 100 percent modern. Nack, a modernist/expressionist himself, and a key node in the network of abstract painters in Southern California, accepted this constraint without protest. There would be more than enough interesting art to show in any case, and the plein air painters of Santa Barbara already had their fair share of opportunities for their work to be seen.
Two years and many successful exhibitions later, that initial barrier has now been breached, in what could be termed an assault by night, with a selection of paintings by Thomas Van Stein. Van Stein is one of the four artists included in Bright Lines and the Void, which also includes work from Hilary Baker, John Carlander, and Norman Lundin, which will be on display through June 30. Nack is showing a selection of Van Stein’s fascinating and deeply atmospheric plein air nocturnes. Equipped with a headlamp, Van Stein ventured into some of our area’s most deserted locations to capture the unusual — or at the very least, rarely painted — light situations that occur in the hours after midnight. Do you wonder what really accomplished paintings of steam and fog picked up by halogen and mercury vapor lights might look like? Go no further, and revel in the degree to which these representational works complement the right angles and clean lines of high-end contemporary bedroom sets.
Although the show’s title, Bright Lines and the Void, dwells on subject matter, particularly that of John Carlander (Mr. Bright Lines) and Norman Lundin (as the Void), the ensemble holds together on another level. Like Lundin, a Seattle painter with a long and illustrious career as a professor of art at the University of Washington, Carlander can capture the look and feel of everyday life whenever he chooses. As a professor of art at Westmont College, Carlander’s ability to shift gracefully between representational and abstract work has been one of his many strengths. Looking at the way he breaks down a wall into its constituent shapes and then reassembles those rectangular forms into a harmonious composition, it’s easy to see where the color sense that is so evident in his abstractions comes from. With Lundin, who specializes in a highly detailed and descriptive realism that’s in the service of representing what the artist likes to call “the void,” representation is a form of supremely sensitive awareness, a way of listening to the sounds of silence in visual form. Given this focus, it’s only natural that his titles verge on slapstick, as in “Studio Floor,” which is an image of just that, his studio floor.
Hilary Baker, on the other hand, likes to play with geometry and volume, pushing slabs of color around like a mason and busting out facets in her large abstractions as though her images were crystals that form under the pressure of her brush. Her big abstract painted objects look great on the far wall of the room, rumbling with geologic resonance and generating high levels of energy in the retina.