It was a disorienting First Friday weekend, what with Henry Rayburn’s memorial, and Blue Star Contemporary Arts Complex changing its hours, and the crazy wind, then the first rain in what seems like years — all on top of watching a guy circle Sala Diaz while lying tummy-down on a wheeled mirror. Maybe it was all just coincidental, but the constant juxtaposition of work of a moment vs. the stirrings of the eternal has me all existential and whatnot.
So. Let’s start with Friday night proper, wherein I checked out the latest installment of John Mata’s occupation of Sala Diaz `see Mark Jones’s “SALA DIAZ IS OPEN: the ‘hegemony of cycloptic mountains’ department,” January 28`. I wasn’t familiar with Randy Wallace, the man giving the night’s performance, which was entitled “Existence Is Fertile:Losing Millennium,” though folks had sort of warned me about him. That he does things like lie on some ice for as long as he can. I was also given to understand he could be wearing pantyhose on his head, that sort of thing. So as I trooped into Jesse Garcia’s 180 Grams space, I felt wary and a little hyper-vigilant. I made chitchat with friends, perused Jesse’s records … then a giddy murmur rumbled through the crowd.
“Oooh, here he comes.”
A man locomotored through, painfully, with, sure as shit, pantyhose over his face. He pushed himself along just above floor level, on a sort of improvised low gurney made
of a mirrored surface balanced on what must’ve been casters. It took him a while to get through the crowd, to navigate sharp corners. It was hard to get a good look at him, but the overall impression was one of grim determination and struggle. Several of the people I was with attempted to get a photo, but it wasn’t easy. Wallace’s apparent suffering, which seemed both abstract and somehow animal, reminded me of Lucky in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; sure, it sounds fancypants, but in action Wallace’s efforts actually felt workmanlike and unpretentious.
“How long’s he been doin’ this?” I asked.
“Oh,” somebody said, “about two hours.”
Dang. Plus, if Wallace walked up to my desk right this minute and punched me in the face, I’d have no idea it was him. There’s a kind of purity in all that: hard work with no product, faceless vulnerability, committing to that kind of time.
Saturday night’s memorial service for Henry Rayburn `see “Rayburn of Light,” February 4` at Say Sí included wonderful speeches — I don’t think I’ll ever forget his Cedar Street neighbor, who lost her house in a fire, express her amazement and gratitude for Henry’s helpfulness in the face of her crisis — as well as a beautifully arranged ofrenda of Rayburn’s art and of objects that recalled him, including a Scrabble board upon which guests had spelled out loving words. The ofrenda and the speeches served a reminder that art is fueled, at least in part, by human hope that our work will not only outlive our bodies, but carry some speck of our essential selves into the future. We all know, of course, that life is transitory. But this is never easy to reckon with, so we constantly forget. What may also be true, though, is that we’re puppets that some eternal Ideas use, like a mirror on casters, to get themselves around.
On Sunday, I was shocked to find Blue Star (the Center for Contemporary Art) closed. New hours, just implemented: closed on Sunday (so is Joan Grona and the brewpub), but open on Thursdays till 8, so peeps with day jobs can make a nice evening of it. This is all right, I guess. But I had witlessly avoided the First Friday chaos there, thinking I’d see McKay Otto’s ever self ever on Sunday, when I could focus, as is my wont. No dice, though. I stopped in over at San Angel Folk Art, where I had a nice long chat with Leigh Anne Lester about hard times, artmaking, and the Valentine’s Day themed show there, which offers amazing work from outsider and folk-artist favorites such as Reverend Seymour Perkins, Jeri Moe, and truly romantic small works by Demetrio Garcia Aguilar, son of the great folk sculptor Josefina Aguilar.
I did end up getting to see McKay Otto, though. Otto’s exhibition of eight geometric abstract layered paintings of acrylic and graphite on wood and nylon employs all sorts of trickery, which is not necessarily a bad thing. For example: at intervals, the overhead lights in the gallery turn off, revealing each painting to have a dual personality; the graphite shadows stand out against glow-in the dark auras, and the bands of hand-applied dots appear graphic rather than a kind of aboriginal, animal-print pointillist. Otto uses a soft, almost feminine palette, which is turned upside-down with the lights off.
The posted artist statement claims that Otto has “aimed to free painting from the two dimensional to become trans-dimensional.” And the titles, such as “ever thyself ever,” “ever what is ever,” and “ever essence ever,” do certainly declare their intended independence from linear time, or their enmeshment in it. “Ever,” maybe, as a place. Along one wall, an enormous painting-installation on four panels, entitled “ever it ever,” hangs 8-by-16 feet and messed with me in a gentle way for a long time. McKay has painted interconnecting forms on who knows how many layers of stretched white nylon. The very top is skeined with elegant and nubile, whitish, circular and ovoid forms. Under these, and in some cases outlined by them, pools of soft color glow. And seemingly under that, stands a sort of armature of line drawings, like the connect-the-dots lines in an illustration of the constellations. But this imaging, like several other effects, is strongest in peripheral vision, inexplicably; look closer, and you actually don’t see it. Whew. •
McKay Otto: ever self ever
Until March 15
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center
Artist gallery talk March 5
HEARTS ON .4. YOU
San Angel Folk Art