, Research Paper
?Some works might make viewers laugh out loud; others may provoke a smile while still others will probably induce no more than an unexhibited amusement,? (SJMA ?The Lighter Side of Bay Area Figuration?, 1). Susan Landauer says this in regards to the latest exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art. The show offers a wide range of pieces from the technically proficient to the texturally interesting; all had a lighthearted quality. I found ?Joe Bot? by Clayton Bailey and ?Untitled? by Joan Brown to be two particularly interesting pieces that typify the exhibit.
The Lighter Side of Bay Area Figuration is akin to Michealangelo?s whole career on a bohemian vacation (Hawaiian shirts included). Works exhibited demonstrate an array of concepts from ?auto biography and Surrealism?s love of the bizarre and evocative juxtaposition to social and cultural taboos? (Chadwick, 309). The chosen media of the exhibit include metal and glasswork along with the more traditional means of art such as painting, sketches and plaster sculpture.
Imagine the David with a light show in his chest, carrots for feet and a dog staring up at him with wide curious eyes. If the reader can imagine this then she will be fully prepared for what the SJMA has to offer. It integrates a keen sense of technology (Clayton equips his dog sculpture with a motion detector so it emits and electronic bark as museum-goers walk by) while preserving the classic concepts of anatomical study and what might be considered ?Salon? training in mid-nineteenth century Paris.
Clayton Bailey?s sense of fun exhibited in his ?bot? sculptures has infected popular opinion of him. He is ?credited with being the zaniest? of his fellow northern Californian peers. An excellent piece to explore his ?zany nature is ?Joe Bot,? one of his latest pieces. Clayton Bailey emphasizes the integration of technology and classic figure study in his piece ?Joe Bot? (2000, steel, glass, electronics). The sculpture resembles a ?junk drawer? man, with a conglomerate of parts that brings to mind a kitchen appliance graveyard. All of his facial features are crafted from knobs, handles and ex-appliances. ?Joe Bot? even displays a noodle strainer for a jock strap. The entire sculpture rests comfortably in its medium?s color: shiny, raw metal silver.
?Joe Bot? stands upright and is nearly life size, with an elevated stature that reflects a wild, amused authority. Surrounding him is the rest of the Bot-family, including a dog, a wife, and a figure Bailey calls ?Grandpa,? created much earlier (1971). His cylindrical chest wraps around glass tubing where lime green electric current spiders up each enclosure. These figures are a stark contrast to the Joan Brown painting crafted in excited earth tones yet they share a whimsical quality.
Joan Brown herself is said to be one of the first to help put the new movement of Bay Area art in the 1960s on the map. She and her colleagues were elevated to ?international stature? by this exceptional accomplishment according to Whitney Chadwick of Art Journal (309). Brown?s ?Untitled? shows us her skills as a painter where she produces the static yet interesting painting of the figure of a boy patiently staring at the viewers and a dog with calico coloring staring intently at the ground. The boy wears a red and white striped shirt rendered in a painterly style. This style leaves no time for exactness, allowing only form to transfer the image to the viewers. The boy?s head and face are vague and undefined, particularly his nose and eyes. They are illustrated with lazy brushstrokes among the similarly crafted forms. This characteristic shows a spontaneous and excited aspect despite the boy?s serene countenance.
The painting largely consists of the ambiance Brown has created for the boy and his dog. The background is a mass of defined colors, where the colors still mingle together but aren?t muddy. The colors push towards the wild side of earthy. Instead of a deep maroon in the boy?s striped shirt, Brown uses a muted red; all of the hues are treated in this manner. The figures presented in a two O?clock light but the background seems unaffected by the time of day.
?Joe-Bot? and ?Untitled,? chosen from the Lighter Side of Bay Area Figuration typify this exhibit?s diversity. Clayton Bailey exposes the lighter side of sculpture while Joan Brown toys with the liberty painters were taking in a quiet rebellion against the New York art world during the 1960s and 1970s (SFMA, 1). This exciting combination of medium and ideas still conveys a sense of ?smartness? to the art despite the ?low brow and?consciously articulated anti-intellectualism? (Chadwick, 309) through its humor.
San Jose Museum of Art, ?The Lighter Side of Bay Area Figuration?. SJMA. September 2000.
Chadwich, Whitney. ?Narrative Imagism and the Figurative Tradition in Northern California Painting.? Art Journal. Winter 1985. Pages 309-314.