It’s no secret Santa Barbara City College is among the best in the nation. What fewer know is that SBCC’s art department is home to more than 25 instructors who balance their teaching with successful careers as studio artists. On view this month at SBCC’s Atkinson Gallery are works by these very members of the art department faculty. As befits an institution of learning, there’s great diversity represented here, from Linda Benet’s classical figure studies in pencil to works by art historian Thomas Larson, whose collages are composed of posters taken from the streets of Istanbul and layered like archaeological strata.
As you enter the space, Beverly Decker’s “Visual Meditation” (2009) summons you from across the room—swirls of acrylic paint resolving into words as you approach the canvas. It’s a dense work, and it forces you to slow down: first to read, then to surrender the search for meaning and let the visual experience wash over you.
Nearby, Gallery Director Dane Goodman’s “hum” and “a song” are reminiscent of Balinese puppets on wooden dowels. One’s a clown head with a bulbous nose and a tiny hat; the other’s a snowman. Their lumpy forms are a result of the material—a molding material called Model Magic—and in their crudeness, they are simultaneously charming and vaguely sinister.
Ceramics professor Christopher Bates exhibits two fine “Serra” bowls, so named in homage to the sculptor Richard Serra, known for his torqued ellipses of steel. Bates’s bowls are wheel-thrown, but subtly warped, so that they appear different from every perspective, and their thin walls and lustrous green glazes are perfect in their irregularity. At the center of the gallery stands Bates’s much more conceptual work, “Learning about home” (2009-2010). It’s a dollhouse-sized building made from solid clay that’s been fired without cracking. Two tiny holes at its base allow for propane to flow into the structure’s single breezeway—an image that conjures everything from a cozy fire in the hearth to a gas chamber.
Christophe Bourély wins the prize for shock value; his painting “Eve” (2010) appropriates Gustave Courbet’s 19th-century painting of a woman’s genitalia, “L’Origine du monde,” and overlays it with the eyes of a rhesus monkey, so that fleshy labia peek out from behind deeply creased orange wrinkles.
Atkinson isn’t a big gallery, but its positioning affords stunning views of the coast. On the deck out back stands Ed Inks’s “Herald,” one of his characteristically abstract steel sculptures. From its center rises a trumpet on a long, undulating stem, as if this figure was calling all of Santa Barbara to come witness the talent contained within these walls.