September 7, 2012 12:14 PM
Art Faculty Biennial
When: through Feb.16
Where: Atkinson Gallery, Santa Barbara City College, 721 Cliff Dr., Santa Barbara
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-p.m. Fri.-Sat.
information: 965-0581, ext. 3484, gallery.sbcc.edu
For habitual local art-watchers with the Atkinson Gallery on their map of influence, the academic season-opening Art Faculty Biennial up at Santa Barbara City College is tantamount to a "things change/things remain the same" scenario. This show, an annual affair transforming into a biennial, is a ripe opportunity to take stock of the faculty artists and their diverse inclinations and perspectives, under one roof. Many of the artists here are familiar faces and forces on the Santa Barbara art scene.
On the change front, two new faculty members — Brian Scott Campbell and Christopher Ulivo — offer a taste of their provocative work, of which more extensive overviews will be presented in more personal exhibitions planned later in the season. Behind the scenes, the gallery director baton has been passed from Dane Goodman to the incoming new director, Sarah Cunningham.
But the most dramatic change is a logistical, ambient and architectural one: while the old Humanities Building undergoes construction, the gallery has moved across campus to a portable next to the Garvin Theatre. This means that, for at least 18 months, the Atkinson Gallery will be deprived of its long-standing status as one of the area's most view-endowed gallery spaces. On the upside, the temporary Atkinson is a clean, well-lit cube of a gallery space, ready for action and the continuation of the gallery's impressive programming agenda.
For this season-launching occasion, the curatorial focus is on the mesh of the many, and an overall picture of what lurks in the college's art department, in terms of its faculty's own art. If a college art department's mandate is to celebrate and represent diversity, of medium and outlook, the SBCC faculty art squad is well-rounded and equipped for the task at hand.
Unofficially, Thomas Larson's "Office Wall/Off the Wall" feels like a reasonable introduction to the exhibition, and to a new school year of art-making and art studies. Mr. Larson's series of dense collages of art and cultural handbills and other advertising, consuming most of one gallery wall, showcases a density of cultural references. It has the feel of overlapping artistic obsession, more about the forest than the trees of specific art data.
Collage takes on another character in Rafael Perea de la Cabada's "The Impossibility of Logistics," a series of small, cryptic mixed media scraps assembled with a deceptive tidiness on a white background. Again, the spirit is one of generalized artistic abandon, more than any focus on prim, finished artistic product. More specific and emotionally-charged imagery — including Anne Frank's face, Hitler on the march, and the 1972 Olympics terrorists — does irradiate Barbara Vilander's "4 Opening Collage."
In painting, the range includes the normally multi-intentional Laura Krifka's realistic yet peculiar, neo-classical image of a mournful woman, "Head," and William Durham's semi-abstracted "The Death of Joe," a confabulation of amoebic-meets-atomic form, in white on black. From quite a different place and mental space, newcomer Mr. Ulivo's surreally cartoonish "Little Richards Gig Old LA Party Crashers!" lives up to the breathless, history-goosing kitsch of its title.
Pop culture and corporate branding sneak slyly into the mix in Mr. Campbell's graphite on paper pieces, "Big White Cloud(s)" and "Apple of my Eye," in which facial designs include logos of CBS and Apple, logos we know as part of our common visual lingo as Americans.
Sculpture has its own intersection of contrasting approaches amongst the faculty artists here. Christopher Bates shows his elegant while somehow elemental wares in glazed porcelain, while Ed Inks' "Tickled Pink" has a more sleek and cheeky attitude, with its mutant molecular structure-play, in pink. And from a more mixed media/sculpture milieu, Elizabeth Folks "Fulfillment Assumption" presents a creepily intriguing blend of video art, with slow-mo women mumbling with chalk in mouths (a dream-like sonic source in the otherwise quiet gallery), on monitors set on a cot's bedsprings.
Between the cracks of easily-defined and categorized media, several of the faculty artists here create their own expressive sub-worlds, and their artistic voices are recognizable to those keen on the scene. Stephanie Dotson's "Underdog" involves swirls and whorls of energy, while Stephanie Washburn's "Reception 15" reveals this artist's unique style, using archive digital prints and layered visual elements to suggest TV static from an alternate dimension.
Michelle Onstat's "And Again and Again And," a drawing with a disarmingly unusual format, lures us into a view of an older woman's pained face, but because it is drawn with a Sharpie and acrylic on a light box, we look and see a familiar image in a fresh and sensitized way.
Art, after all, is about reframing and reconsidering at things we know or feel or dream about. This exhibition upholds that ideal in good, expressive and, we assume, pedagogical stead.