Collaborating artists present a powerful collection of evocative abstracts at the Pacific Grove Art Center.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
While the Pacific Grove Art Center’s Elmarie H. Dyke Gallery is decked out in quaint still lifes of flowers for a typically Monterey Peninsula – that is, typically traditionalist – spring show, a glance into the David Henry Gill Gallery reveals a strange, indefinable world that vibrates with a charged calm.
Bold white lines scream at graceful black splotches. Mottled layers of gray and green whisper to each other. Rich blue rectangles rock soft white blobs to sleep. Now and then, a bold, curving line suggests a dancing figure just enough to make you wonder what the lively strokes of color surrounding her are singing in her ear.
Part of the reason this show is so compelling is that there’s not much abstract work in Monterey County. But that’s not the only reason so many people were telling the artists Rima West and Jennifer Brook-Kothlow at their opening last month that this is the best show they’ve seen at PGAC in a long time.
Squares and lines can easily come across as meaningless. But then again, so can pretty vases of flowers. West’s and Brook-Kothlow’s works succeed because they succeed in saying something – that is, in radically altering the mood and consciousness of the viewer.
“The show really brings a sense of expression, a sense of the soul,” says Dick Crispo, owner of Crispo’s Gallery on Cannery Row. “The pieces are artistically well done and they speak to the soul, which doesn’t always happen at the same time; they speak on both levels.”
West and Brook-Kothlow achieve this emotional-aesthetic power through devotion to their art making process – and visibly expressing that process in their work. The show’s title, Courting the Muse, reflects this devotion to inspiration and expression, partly cultivated through the artists’ training in the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s and ’60s.
“We’re interested in the tactile in art,” Brook-Kothlow says. “Most art today is smooth surfaces, precision drawing, a lot of realism. I like to capture the feeling of something without delineating it.” Brook-Kothlow is a mood master; through rich, methodical layering, she builds up experiments in basic line and background like “Blackboard #1” that communicate an intense feeling and invite contemplation.
West’s works are more figurative, often focusing on a primitivistic, vaguely suggested figure of a woman. But West is certainly not trying to realistically portray a particular body; rather, the figures express her own internal experience.
The contrast between West’s and Brook-Kothlow’s nonfigurative pieces creates a lively tension, though the two artists’ pieces evoke such a similar mood that they integrate seamlessly. The strength of the dovetailing dialogue between the two artists helps make this a powerful exhibit.
It also hints at the fact that they have been inspiring, mentoring, and critiquing each other for more than a decade. “We have no fear of telling each other what we really think,” West says. “Jennifer has said to me, ‘you have to work on your backgrounds – they’re dead.’” West has worked on her backgrounds for this show, introducing more complex layering effects which are reminiscent of Brook-Kothlow’s without becoming identical to them.