Artists Join Forces for Twelfth Winter Exhibition

A review of Winter Exhibition, on view at Gallery 80808 through Feb. 7.
This year’s Winter Exhibition at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios is the 12th joint annual exhibition for Stephen Chesley, Mike Williams and Edward Wimberly, and the 10th for David Yaghjian. This year, each of the artists has moved into some interesting new areas.

Mike Williams has been in a new studio for a while, and the open quality of that space may have impacted the largest painting he’s showing in the exhibit. Untitled, in the main gallery, is a very large painting, one that you can’t process in its entirety until you stand back far enough to take the whole piece in. Only from a distance does the dominant shape read as a representational object, a simplified outline of a head. The subtle layering of color and surface doesn’t make its full impact when viewed from close up. The bold imagery is totally new, but the quality of the paint application is totally Williams.

Mike Williams, Boundary
There’s a strong relationship between this painting and the more structured, geometric paintings Williams began exhibiting two years ago. Boundary features Williams’ signature fish motif, but it is a jumping-off point for an exploration of movement, created through changes in color, shape and thickness of paint rather than gestural mark. The gesture is still a very strong element in Williams’ landscapes, though. Simon Says combines both geometric and gestural elements, and deep within the paint is the silhouette of a figure, a smaller version of the head that dominated Untitled.

Chesley has used pastels to make large-scale pieces for most of his career, but this is the first time he’s shown them in quite some time, which is a shame since they are some of his strongest works. Bamboo, Twilight is almost 3-by-4 feet, but it’s the artist’s use of color and light that makes the piece so dominating. Late afternoon light strikes a stand of bamboo at just the right low angle to turn it into a mass of flaming red. The amount of detail is reduced so that the composition takes on a delicate balance between abstraction and representation.

Chesley has also been making welded metal sculptures for some time, but this is the first time that he has exhibited carved wooden or clay pieces. There are strong similarities in the way that he deals with the different materials with this new work, which draws on imagery from tribal cultures in constructing the formal relationships.

Wimberly and Yaghjian both use a narrative structure in much of their work, but both are doing far more than simple visual storytelling. This year, Wimberly presents his strongest body of work in some time. He has at least three extensive, coherent series here, so be prepared to spend time with these works. The smallest but no less powerful pieces are the tiny ink drawings. Raggedy Ann & Frog is only about 6-by-8 inches but contains a sense of monumental space that is created by two large kitchen knives stuck into the ground behind the doll. The knives rise up like columns on a portico, framing the two figures in an architectural space. The razor-sharp blade completely counteracts the whimsy of the doll and frog.

Wimberly has also included a series of pastel portraits that pare down his usually complex compositions. These pieces are limited to a single subject juxtaposed with one or two seemingly unrelated objects. The surreal quality of the combinations underscores the sort of Jungian exploration of character that the artist does best.
Yaghjian’s Everyman series takes on a new layer with the introduction of a new character, Bonobo the ape, into the artist’s ongoing tragi-comedy. Bonobo appears in a number of the new pieces, from the beautiful pencil drawing Bonobo No. 1 to larger paintings like Scene XVII Lawnmower. There’s no real interaction between the ape and the human subjects, but this only adds to the tension his inclusion creates in the works. In Scene XVII Lawnmower, Everyman pushes the lawnmower through the Eden-like forest, watched from a distance by Bonobo. There’s a visual tension between the looser, more abstract rendering of the human, and the more delicately painted animal. But the tension also exists on a more symbolic level as well, between culture and nature.

The annual exhibit reflects the close working relationship that these four artists have, but it also showcases the recent developments in the work of each artist. The 12th annual Winter Exhibition will be up through Feb. 7. 

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