Kelly Berg, Brad Howe, Andy Moses, and Jennifer Wolf as artists have a lot in common, and also claim a great many points of divergence. But between them, they tend to the legacy of modern Southern California abstraction, and especially the aspects of its practice that were nurtured on the region’s rich landscape traditions. Josef Albers once said, “Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature,” and he might have been speaking straight to the work of these four artists -- whose works are assembled for The Ojai Invitational 2017 edition, California Space & Light.
Another title for the show might have been, “Geological Survey,” and not only because this assorted quartet’s non-figurative works articulate some brazenly direct relationships with the landscape. The aesthetic of that landscape in question so clearly, incontrovertibly, passionately belongs to California -- the same geography celebrated in the Invitational’s stated goal of nurturing the visual art discourse along the Santa Barbara-to-San Diego continuum. “Collectively, their work leads one to question and appreciate the exceptionally Californian experience of light and space,” says curator Eric Minh Swenson, and indeed in its evocative optical physicality, abstractionist though it is, this is work that both describes a palpable sense of place and also deftly transcends that place’s boundaries.
Painter Jennifer Wolf is well known for the intricacy, charm and rigor of her process; she makes her own pigment from the raw mineral materials of the earth whose contours she traces in her compositions. The romance of this is irresistible. But what is more mysterious and compelling still, is how despite her brushless collaboration with the laws of physics in which she exercises only partial control over the non-figurative outcome, she manages to create works that are absolutely legible as the earthen, oceanic, familiar and exotic locations where her pigment stones were harvested. It’s a kind of energy/optic exchange in which it is perhaps the soul rather than the surface of the earth we see.
Andy Moses sets up hyperchromatic science-lab like experiments in his painting studio, engaging gravity and fluid momentum in his pursuit of endless horizons, fractal dunes, and opalescent floodplains. He works, like Wolf, directly with physics and the consequences of constant motion rather than the intentionality of brush and gesture. We see not so much the hand of the artist in these paintings, but rather his body. In the variegated richness of detail and at increasingly ambitious scale, it is impossible not to image the artist at work, in motion, gymnastic and focused. The results are flamboyant and meditative, surreal and meteorological, glowing and serpentine whose contents are up for debate but whose endless cosmic summer is on full display.
Brad Howe is the sculptor among these painters, known for his abstract, freestanding welded forms -- abstract geometrical arrangements executed with charming majesty at both intimate and architectural scale. His work is fairly synonymous with ideas about public art, smooth and lively, site-responsive and welcoming. Yet in its deceptive simplicity and post-industrial materialism, there exists a panoply of rarified, reductive but energetic cues taken from both nature and art history. A nearly symphonic progression of intersecting planes, positive and negative spaces, crisp and gentle lines and engagement with ambient light offers a phenomenological bridges between concerns of painting and design, abstraction, and experience.
Kelly Berg is more figurative than most artists whom one might consider abstractionists. Her attraction to nature tends toward the operatic and disastrous -- eruptions, conflagrations, lightning strikes, ice ages, primordial shockwaves. She is drawn to the eccentric meteorological topographies of rocky canyons, crater lakes, thunderheads, and tornadoes. But in her manner of depiction she operates in the spirit of artists like JMW Turner, who rather than invent a purified abstraction purged of realism, chose as his subjects natural phenomena like rain, fog, and choppy seas, which in their own forms already tended toward the liminal and amorphous. Volcanic, atmospheric disturbances and the crystalline shards of shattered stalactites are pretty wild looking to begin with, and Berg not only renders but dimensionally builds sculptural surfaces with almost diorama-like resolution, mineral-rich lands of extreme impasto.
These artists’ shared penchant for speaking an abstract language to describe the outside world, whether materialist and process-driven or heartily conceptualist, is an impulse formed in the embrace of the natural world, in thrall to the place we share. California.
A portion of the sales from this exhibition will benefit the inspirational organization, CAROLYN GLASOEBAILEY FOUNDATION, a public art foundation in Ojai.
MAY 25 - JULY 2, 2017