MORAGA --"The Artist Revealed: Artist Portraits and Self-Portraits," a new exhibit open through Dec. 15 at Saint Mary's College's Museum of Art, proves some people are just terrific at packing.
Tucked into four cubbyhole galleries in the labyrinthine space, an enviable collection of talent and techniques manages to both fit and exceed the room allotted.
The exhibit includes a brilliant assortment of portraits and self-portraits on loan from the Syracuse University Art Collection, sublimely misty paintings by landscape artist William Keith, and works expressing the vivid, eclectic interests of two photographers, Judy Dater and Malcolm Lubliner.
Spanning over 150 years of history-making big wigs, buffoons and beautiful
people, the portraits and self-portraits appear in media as varied as their subjects. Photos, paintings, sculptures and captivating works on paper provide idiosyncratic glimpses: there's Chuck Close's "Alex" (1992), the first painting created after a spinal blood clot left Close a quadriplegic; the skin of Mark Boyle's body, mapped in "Random Self Portrait, Cytogram;" the easy familiarity of Norman Rockwell's "Triple Self Portrait;" and the wild, raw energy of Coulton Waugh's knife-wielding self portrait.
Visitors may appreciate the exhibit's attention to female photographers Barbara Morgan and Berenice Abbot, whose bold images startle or amuse -- and consistently impress.
A handful of atmospheric paintings by Keith, from the permanent collection and a few from private collections on display for the first time, grace a third gallery with silvery clouds, grand vistas and the particular charms of Muir Ranch and other recognizable California landscapes.
Turning the corner to enter Lubliner's urban landscapes involves a leap in time (from Keith's 1880s to the 1970s and 2000s) and a geographical shift from rural California to the inner-city streets of Los Angeles.
"Cars are vain and enjoy being photographed," Lubliner's exhibit notes proclaim. From the walls of the narrow, newly-added gallery, seductive, mysterious "models" demand admiration, if not outright adoration -- not of the cars, but of Lubliner.
It's rare when a photographer's instincts can upstage the elegance of a 1937 Airflow or the edgy groove of an Eldorado, Or elevate the grit of a 1916 Chalmers with shadowy textures a viewer can feel as much as see. Or unleash a fluid color sense to emblazon a red Rambler in one's permanent memory and turn a '66 Dodge van into a desirable destination.
Shot with a 35 mm digital SLR camera (he now uses a Nikon D700), Lubliner had switched from painting to photography, a move he calls "excellent for career and historic reasons" in a response to an inquiring email. He chronicled LA's art scene during the '60s and 70s: the J. Paul Getty Museum recently purchased his archive from that period.
Working in both black-and-white and color, Lubliner is masterful with shadow,
which often, ironically, reveal his obvious sense of humor. In "Tennessee Pontiac" (1974), the amiable auto inches its nose partially into blistering sunlight, its headlights appearing to glance sideways -- it's Charlie Chaplin on wheels. Irony unfolds after the chuckles, in the form of slashing red diagonals, or, in another image, in a rusted Ford, weathering like driftwood on a beach.
Lubliner attributes his results to "the force of the unintended consequence" and
"following unconscious and well practiced habits," concluding, "I have a long, comfortable and trusting relationship with my muse."
"Edo Redux," Dater's self-curated photographs in the last gallery, exposes connections and contrasts in work she created during six trips to Japan. In 1963, just one year before her "Imogen and Twinka" became Life Magazine's first full frontal nude female image, Dater's camera caught a re-emerging, postwar world. "It was like seeing old Japanese prints come to life," she writes, in an exhibition artist statement.
Several photographic pairings offer proof of her enduring fascination with texture and subject matter. A 30-year gap separates "Dog in Basket" and "Woman and Poodle," but veins on a dog owner's aged hand and swirling hair on a poodle form a correlation. Pride of ownership are held in common, suspended across two centuries in a perfectly proportioned basket and a dog-loving gaze.