Aside from some music coming from a video monitor, the shared “language” between most of the artists in Long Beach City College Art Gallery’s “Obversations (an exhibition of reciprocal portraits)” is silence. Creatively curated by Trevor Norris, the 12 pairings of Southern California artists is set up so the pieces are placed opposite one another, the clever conceit that the artists are observing and having a conversation.
Blue McRight gets the regal treatment in Wayne Shimabukuro’s striking photo, a bright sash of red water hoses draped across her shoulder, a saint’s halo of metal water nozzles above her head. In her graphite-on-paper drawing of him, the opposite comes into play: The white of the paper almost overwhelms him as he gazes out at us from the mid-left corner of the page. Meanwhile, Phyllis Green’s ceramic of Ave Pildas’ porkpie hat suggests her vision of him as a modest man comfortable laying his hat down wherever he is. His chromogenic print of her wrapped inside an elaborately conceived burqa on training wheels gives her an oversized theatrical presence, the brown of the veil neatly tying into the color of his sculpted chapeau.
Christopher Chinn’s painting Gary Brown has the musician and artist dressed in black, highlighting the shiny gold saxophone he’s playing, eyes closed, serenely lost in the music he’s making. The brick and mortar behind him gives the feel of a New York hole-in-the-wall, the weighty daubs of paint giving it the texture of a warm embrace. The rigid blocks of charcoal and pastel in Brown’s drawing of Chinn makes him resemble Jesus, his dark facial hair and the whites of his eyes edged with blue and yellow chalk give him a bold serenity worthy of Buddha.
I’ve never seen a Bradford Salamon oil painting I didn’t like, and that tradition continues with his vision of Don Bachardy, giving him a blurry, ghost-like visage, the lines scratched across the canvas as if they’ve bled out from the lines of his weathered face. The flesh in Bachardy’s acrylic-on-paper portrait of Salamon resembles smooth salmon swaths of watercolor, the lines of blue in his shirt like thin lines of toothpaste.
Gustavo Quinteiro’s performance art-cum-video portrait of Peter Liashkov, Puerto San Martin, loves ash and dust in a way that would make Samuel Beckett proud, raining the substances down on the artist’s head in a black-and-white maelstrom. Liashkov returns the favor in his portrait: Quinteiro’s face is a photo print transferred to fiberglass mesh, the image abraded and obscured with salt, but sparkling with tiny flecks of crushed glass.
Tanya Batura’s Kristin Calabrese is a nightmarish ceramic bust of a woman sleeping, her eyes bursting from her pink-tinged hair, the waves and ruffles resembling an alien super-brain. In contrast, the Rembrandt-like soot black of the background in Calabrese’s oil of Batura couldn’t be more comforting, showing her smiling and joyous, wrapped in the arms of an unseen loved one.
John Sonsini’s silver gelatin print Gabriel On the East Stairs of the Studio—1996 is a vivid black-and-white image of the young artist carrying a suitcase up to a stair landing. Looking to his right, hesitating, it feels like a film-noir moment just before a shootout; think Peckinpah’s The Getaway, sans handgun. Gabriel Barajas’ meditative portrait John Painting Miguel In Santa Barbara—2008 has less intensity of focus: We don’t see the artist’s face, just the back of his head, his subject and the portrait he’s working on.
Art Twitchell’s penetrating graphite-on-wood panel closeup of his father’s eyes has all of the resonance of a parent’s withering glance, capturing every stray eyebrow hair and periorbital dark circles; muralist Kent Twitchell’s graphite-and-pastel of his tousle-haired son, on a muddled blue background, is a loving picture-perfect portrait of the younger man.
Sarah Awad is Rebecca Campbell’s small mixed-media painting, using gold- and silverleaf. It’s experimental, smaller in scope than her larger figurative canvases on display at the Dax Gallery last year; the bright colors are painted right into her subject’s face, bold and eye-catching, off-setting with its brightness the otherwise troubled look in Awad’s eyes. In Awad’s acrylic canvas, Campbell is an abstract lime-and-yellow figure, sitting and listening to a gesturing hand, a line of black separating the colors into limbs.
The last piece, by artist Sylvia Shap, is of her brother Ron Shap. It’s understated mixed media, a simple photograph with a painted blue background, enclosed in a plexi box, something that might otherwise be passed by. What makes it special, however, is the fact that Sylvia died this past December, and Ron’s corresponding portrait honoring his sister was misplaced at his studio and has gone missing. In place of the absent portrait is a bare white wall, the conversation between the two ended by the ultimate silence.
“Obversations (an exhibition of reciprocal portraits)” at Long Beach City College Art Gallery, 4901 E. Carson St., Long Beach, (562) 938-4815; www.artgallery.lbcc.edu. Open Mon. & Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., noon-8 p.m. Through March 17. Free.
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.