Maureen Davidson

Staff Writer

The Exhibitionist: Robert Mapplethorpe

A labyrinth walk of images make up the “Robert Mapplethorpe: Portraits” exhibition at San Jose Museum of Art. The 103 photographs are mesmerizingly similar in size and shape, all black and white with few melodramatic contrasts; neutral dark or light backgrounds in the same unremarkable frames, mostly straight-on head and upper torso poses with the subject looking directly at the camera. Flatteringly lit, formally composed, these seem at first to be standard glam shots of famous people, but after one familiar face draws the viewer close, the path from photograph to photograph becomes a deepening encounter with the same unveiled regard.

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The Exhibitionist: Gloria Alford

Well-raised, well-read and well-educated, the middle-class girl from Northside Chicago went to Berkeley in the 1940s to get a degree in social sciences and—as was expected of young women of her time and class—choose a brilliant man to marry and with whom to have genius children. In the 1950s, Gloria Alford worked as a kindergarten teacher to put her husband through his Ph.D. program, then, with children in school and husband’s career launched, she took up again what she had begun as a youth at the Chicago Art Institute, re-entering the world of art via the acceptable milieu of sewing, fabric printing and design. With an innate intelligence and awareness of the turmoil of the 1960s, however, Alford did not fail to notice the growing influence of the computer in every sector of society. Compelled to make art that commented on the changing world around her, she increased her vocabulary, learned to vacuum-cast plastics and paper and investigated the language of computer code.

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The Exhibitionist: Robert Ogata

The eloquent simplicity of Robert Katsusuke Ogata’s recent paintings is a state achieved only after a lifetime of exploration. Ogata traveled many roads as an artist to get here—here, where an ambiguous gesture in black chalk on white canvas speaks volumes and draws the viewer closer, all the better to dive into the warm, sensuous emptiness of a pond of luminous white, but also pushes the viewer back for perspective and a view of the whole vision.

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The Exhibitionist: Art Class

An exquisite square of carnelian glass with many fused inclusions of brilliant color lived for a few days on a table beside the kiln, then exploded while it was being slumped (melted again into a shape) and now exists in jewel-like shards. The artist was stunned at first, then stoic. Then she began to think how to use the glittering remains.

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The Exhibitionist: Ceramic and Glass

Surprisingly, lots of kids with adults in tow marched up the stairs to the Museum of Art & History on a recent rainy weekend. In the lobby, a few seriously playful men in conductor hats sat behind a miniature landscape where long streams of colorful carriages careened over tiny tracks in a high-speed choreography of all-out races and near-misses: MAH’s annual Toy Trains family exhibit. Excited young voices rose cheerfully to MAH’s second floor and the “clay” part of the Association of Clay and Glass Artists of California exhibition, which opened last week.

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The Exhibitionist: Lost Murals

Eduardo Carillo and students, 'Birth, Death and Regeneration'

My new career as mural detective started, as such things do, with a morsel of intriguing information. In the course of writing about Eduardo Carrillo’s retrospective at the Museum of Art & History last year I saw an image of the mural that Carrillo and his UCSC students painted in the tunnel entrance to El Palomar Restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz and learned that, decades ago, this powerful work, called Birth, Death and Regeneration, was painted over.

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The Exhibitionist: Ingrid Calame

The balcony overlooking the soaring Dart Gallery of the Monterey Museum of Art La Mirada provides a long leaning-on-the-railing view into the deep space.  The facing wall—about 25 feet high and 50 wide with a giant, full-length window—creates a cavernous room that evidently provides an exhausting challenge to curators, as does the low-ceilinged warren under the balcony opening into the expanse.

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Artists Rally Around ‘Art for Art’

It seems always to be the season when artists are asked to give their work in support of good causes. Every month there’s a fundraiser for children, for schools, for victims of disaster, and there, front and center, is the auction item that represents the time, materials, education and creative juices of a local artist. Two such events take place this weekend. The “STARS” auction benefits the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, which depends on artists to donate significant works—and every year artists do—to support MAH art programs. Local artists donate also to Monterey Museum of Art’s annual “Miniatures,” which raffles over 300 works.  So it’s no surprise that the only fundraiser designed for local artists by local artists is also a gift—as much to the public as to the profession.

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The Exhibitionist: Ursula O’Farrell

It’s long past time to break out the bubbly on behalf of the success of Aptos painter Ursula O’Farrell, whose star was already swiftly ascending when I was introduced to her work in 2008 in the provocative “Visual Politics” exhibition juried by revered art scholar Peter Selz at the Santa Cruz Art League. Seared into my memory was O’Farrell’s painting Flying into It, a moment caught like an intake of breath as a cataclysm erupts skyward, while in the foreground people innocently engaged in park pastimes bear witness. This dramatic work represents what I have come to see as the distinctive hand of O’Farrell: the bold, expressionistic brushwork, juicy color upon unlikely color alluding to depth and foreground; figures and their relation to each other suggested by compositional distance and direction, all creating meaning by intimating a gesture, an atmosphere, a mood.

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