What is not and that which is
Sculptures and Drawings by Sheila Ghidini
BY MARK DEAN JOHNSON
Framed works in graphic media on Mylar depict eye-dazzling pile-ups of chairs that interweave positive and negative space with dimensionality and flat design. These engage the viewer with the meticulous intricacy of their imaginative shallow space, while evoking the collapsed layers of architectural elevation drawings that Ghidini has often created for her work in public art. While largely grid-based, the newest of these drawings incorporate a gestural circular sweep that imbues its composition with movement. Fully sculptural works in wood also explore grid and circular forms, awash in shades of grey,recalling the monochrome strategy of Louise Nevelson. Repurposed from discarded, sawed up and reassembled chairs found in the neighborhood of her studio, they hint at the artist’s long engagement with site-specificity. Collages cut out from black mat board amplify Ghidini’s compositional engagement with negative space but incorporate gold thread. Irregularly folded shapes suggest the formalism of Constructivism, while the thread interjects a family legacy of quilting. Brilliantly enigmatic wall installations each incorporate painted chair fragments and colored threads that extend the forms’ shapes in space, but include drawn elements that enhance actual wall shadows caused by the specific lighting of their illuminated environment. The mystery of reflected color and highlighted shadow invite and intrigue our extended gaze by mixing the hard-edge with illusionary ambiguity.But what about the chairs? Ghidini has written that the chairs hold absence and presence and serve as a container for the contradictions of being alive. But chairs abound in other Bay Area artists’ oeuvre; David Ireland’s play with chair forms can perhaps be related to Ghidini’s explorations. Chairs also provide a station for repose as well as for work; a small sign in Ghidini’s studio reads “work is prayer,” the monastic motto of 6th century abbot St. Benedict. Perhaps we are sensing Ghidini’s channeling of the quiet innovation and integrity of Shaker design.
Eva Bovenzi, Double Diamond, 2016, acrylic on Yupo, 24 x 36 inches
Eva Bovenzi & Robin McDonnell @ Pastine Projects
February 7, 2023
If you’ve ever spent time in the Sonoran desert, images of the Saguaro cactus, the region’s emblem, will likely be lodged in memory. These multi-armed giants look as beguiling in death as they do in life, owing to how their wood skeletons decompose in majestic, human-like poses. Such plants, along with Native American iconography, have long influenced Eva Bovenzi.
For years, she’s represented this environment and much else by making collages out of cut, painted snippets of Yupo paper built up in semi-transparent layers. Where past bodies of work relied on clashing textures and contrasting shapes to evoke moods, the strongest elements operating the trio of collages seen here are watery lengths of green acrylic paint congealed in blotchy rivulets whose directionality Bovenzi disrupts by fusing disparate flow patterns into composite shapes that move in ways that liquid normally would not.
Double Diamond, two side-by-side chevrons trimmed in purple and filled with these forms, pays direct homage to the source material, cactus. Olmec, a snaky shape executed similarly, calls to mind an ancient glyph, while Nopalito, the most complex of work in Bovenzi’s part of the exhibition, shows a tangle of “limbs” growing pink spikes. It reads like a heraldic crest. What reproductions can’t convey are the spatial effects Bovenzi achieves by appending other bits of painted paper to these central shapes. Floating on the surfaces, they operate to surreal effect, mimicking the visions one experiences in the desert when vagaries of light challenge perception.
Oakland painter Robin McDonnell, once known for turbulent Abstract Expressionist paintings made with bold, slashing strokes, now produces roughed-up color field paintings: luminous, small-scale monochrome works marked by paint spatters and scrapped edges — surface incidents that add variety but do little to elevate the form. More effective are pairs of styrofoam “rocks” set one atop the other in the mode of Japanese rock balancing. Spray painted in glowing metallic “patinas,” they affect the look of extraterrestrial matter fallen to Earth, but at sizes too small to register the intended effect. At an exponentially larger scale, they’d be imposing, if not convincing.
—David M. Roth
Eva Bovenzi: “Sonoran Suite Collages on Paper” + Robin McDonnell: “Solid as Breath Paintings and Sculptures @ Pastine Projects through February 25, 2023.
january 7 – february 19 2021
Essay by Glen Helfand
Sheila Ghidini and Anne McGuire’s exhibition at Pastine Projects finds two artists thinking a lot about space and interiority. It’s a very timely topic, being that over the last couple of years, the relationship to being inside, sequestered, has altered our perceptions of where we exist. The foundations of our lives, the places where we live, the visions that come to us as we sleep, have been skewed, our focus redirected back at the intimate places we inhabit. Ghidini and McGuire have engaged in a responsive dialog with how we live now, and the results are full of nuance.
It is fitting that that the gallery is so intimately scaled as the works installed here have a cozy, hermetic quality: You enter them and feel enveloped. In the compact foyer, Ghidini shows two works from a series called Shelter in Place, 2021. Within a defined square she has created drawings that suggest that gravity free human hamster wheel in 2001: A Space Odyssey and M.C. Escher drawings, places that double back on themselves. Ghidini draws interior spaces in which sleek tables, stools, and chairs, engage in a repeating dance in a Busby Berkeley spirograph. They circle around a central point where it appears there is an eye looking through the peephole. What's going on in there, someone seems to be wondering. Only we’re inside this orderly vortex, being observed. The repetition of objects is an expression of daily rituals, things repeated, circularly: We sit in that same chair, at the same table, climb the same stairs repeatedly, a ritual dance. The situation is comforting, though sometimes gives way to existential rumination.
We all went through that for a time and the impact was deep. We got to know our abodes more intimately, we heard sounds at a time of day that when you used to be at work. In 2020, people exercised by pacing on their balconies and living rooms. You could see them through the window. Ghidini’s drawings are highly architectural in their address of space, though you'd have to call it visionary architecture, an imagined space that grows out of reality.
Indeed, things have looked strange lately. Even if her process begins with the grid, McGuire's watercolors undulate visually. Many of the lines in the works she shows here are done freehand, the constraint has a looseness-- ripples and distortions. McGuire's previous works were done in a more rigid fashion, exclusively using a straight edge to create genuinely straight lines. Her current work adds in a good percentage of human looseness. Where does the new sense of freedom come from?
In the show there is a woozy watercolor where dark, mostly horizontal lines seem to billow and distend. Is it wind or a body beneath a patterned duvet? There is a rusty red, dried blood hue around the edges. The piece is called Operation, 2021, and the artist admits the title comes from the game of the same name. You might remember that one, where you win if you lift bones and internal organs without touching the edge of the little advent cubbies in the electrified game board. You get a shock if you slip. The medical allusion is apt, but some is the sense of an operation being a complex endeavor, a project.
These are not actual game boards, but the titular references-- others in this show include Risk, Sorry, and Monopoly-- offer a lot of fodder for thinking of them. In play, the boards are contained spaces that you move through, and like an artist, when playing Risk, for example, you always must contemplate your next move. There are rules, but we always bend them. What are admissible words in Scrabble?
These are diversions that can also take a long time—remember those rainy day Monopoly marathons?—and McGuire admits that her recent works are hardly quick to create. She allows for a lot of improvisation, the works feel organic in that way that nature makes its own surprising patterns.
Games are played with others, but these exude a solitary state. Both artists have made meditative pieces in the family of mandalas and Tantric drawings. They distill time and space into finished works. Viewers can follow the threads, imagine the trajectories and imagine how much time these took to realize.
This show is called Duet, a musical term for two. It is a dialog on interiority, works that bring together created illusory spaces. Ghidini also shows sculptures that integrate the walls on which they are installed. They are constructed of sliced and reconfigured pieces of furniture (another kind of operation). She draws artificial shadows of these elements directly on the wall, making it difficult to discern the real shadows from the artificial ones. This creates a dance between actual light and illusion.
In the compact gallery, a place where you could stand in the middle and almost reach the walls if you extend your arms, Ghidini and McGuire's work engages in conversation. Chromatically, there is a particular bounce of blue. It is watercolor and contractor's chalk. It is an aquatic blue, light and lively. And serious. It is the color of structure, of construction. What we build. What we live through.
Glen Helfand is an independent writer, critic, curator, and educator. His writing appears regularly in Artforum and at Artforum.com, and he’s contributed to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, ArtInfo.com, and many other periodicals and exhibition catalogs. He was the associate editor of the design magazine CMYK and a co-founder of the Bay Area arts website Stretcher.org. He’s a Senior Adjunct professor at California College of the Arts, where he teaches courses on contemporary art (including classes focusing on suburban aesthetics, commerce in art, and professional practices). He also teaches in the graduate and undergraduate art programs at Mills College, and at the San Francisco Art Institute where he organizes the Visiting Artists and Scholars Lecture Series. Helfand has curated exhibitions for the De Young Museum, San Francisco; the San Jose Museum of Art; the Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena; Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco; Dust Gallery, Las Vegas; and the Mills College Art Museum, Oakland. He lives in San Francisco.
October 22 – December 11 2021
affinities: carrie lederer | leonard rosenfeld.
Essay by Julia Couzens
The sensory thrill that materially based art can elicit is a wonder without peer. It is a wonder that we respond to with fascination, rapture, and inquiry. When combined with narrative imagery such wonders engender fanciful expeditions into fantastical worlds and encounters with inanimate objects bristling with life. Pastine Projects brings together two artists fluent in the language of haptic presence, introducing to the San Francisco region respected, yet under-recognized New York artist Leonard Rosenfeld (1926-2009) with noted Bay Area painter, Carrie Lederer. Together their works offer a master class in total tactual immersion.
As artists, Lederer and Rosenfeld share a magpie’s eyes with their affinity for the snatched scrap and ready oddment, for life’s detritus, for stuff. Lederer deploys fabric, fur, and glitter to work up richly laden paintings on panels and paper redolent with touch. Rosenfeld cobbled together wooden stretcher bars, carpet tacks, crushed cans, and telephone wire to create singularly inventive constructions urgent with physicality. Both used their material absorption as a springboard into narrative enchantment and wonder tales.
Lederer’s abstract gardens are stunningly complex, exhortative inventions of allegory. Amid rampant urbanization, diminishing ecological resources, and unstable ecosystems, Lederer’s paintings offer speculations on our primordial roots and the verdant tapestry of humankind’s cosmic interconnectedness. Layering meticulous painting, pattern, and ornamentation, she negotiates a path between sumptuous narratives of feminine blossoming and visionary odes to our existential fragility.
Two works, Abstracted Garden (Homage to my Grandma Helmi) and Abstracted Garden (Homage to my Great Aunt Tynne), dovetail emblems to Lederer’s personal lineage within her concern for the global biosphere. Collaged on painted wood panels, fabric swatches overlap and cluster into grids that recall aerial views of rural row crops or handstitched quilts. Frames of squirming, supple tendrils painted in hot pinks, oranges, and sour greens embellish the grids, creating an abstract portrait, or mandala. Subsequently decorated with tangible cultural artifacts such as doll parts and paint-tipped yarn pom-poms, her exhilarating work hints at a sort of wild lunacy as much as it rouses reverence and mystery.
Rosenfeld’s singular assemblage constructions land hard on the streets of the New York’s Lower East Side. After attending the Art Students League on the GI Bill, Rosenfeld was protean in his studio practice. Until his death in 2009 at the age of 82 he was venturesome in style, creating drawings, paintings, and assemblages vigorous in their narrative allusions to urban life, geopolitical events, and the eternal cycle of social ills. Although Rosenfeld exhibited in galleries and museums, he was something of an outlier, working out of the spotlight, faithful to his own restless vision. If discovery and search is an artist’s North Star, then relative anonymity is arguably a gift. The day that Rosenfeld reached down to pick up a scrap of telephone wire was the day he grasped the artist’s gold ring: sui generis formal invention.
Innovative in their time and to this day, works such as Chinatown (The Year of the Fish), Jail House Love, and Luego, Caballo, press against the barriers of painting. They possess fetish-y theatrical presence and urgency. Literally working on painting’s edge, Rosenfeld stripped the canvas off stretcher bars to stack strips of telephone wire in writhing depictions of stylized human dramas and geometric linear motifs. He worked without preciousness for his materials. Their purpose was to convey meaning rather than to signal intrinsic value. In that purpose, Rosenfeld was a magician.
JULIA COUZENS is an artist and writer. She divides her time between Merritt Island outside Clarksburg on the Sacramento River delta and Los Angeles. She has been a contributing writer to squarecylinder.com since 2014.