“Figurations” at LOAKal

by admin on January 16, 2013

Artists Helen Bayly, John Felix Arnold III and James Swinson take on a quite convoluted, grand theme in “Figurations” at Loakal Gallery in Jack London Square: the human figure, perhaps the first subject matter ever explored in art and one that has been abstracted, twisted, distorted and put back together again through millennia of art history. These three Bay Area artists, each using the human figure in radically different ways, do form a show that reveals not only the wide disparity of how the subject is and has been appropriated both historically and regionally, but they also explore personal connections, revealing common themes, attitudes, and interests.

Helen Bayly’s large-scale drawings put a contemporary spin on Renaissance-era portraiture and narratives. Painstakingly detailed, her artwork explores contemporary topics through mythological and religious imagery, employing a wide spectrum of drama mined from everything from universal human experiences to her relationship with modern youth culture as observed growing up in Santa Cruz and Northern California. Raphaelite muses and Madonna-esque women grasp 40 ounces of beer as their elegant movements might be more appropriately recognized as drunken stumbling. A god-like reverence exemplified by their ethereal, heavenly statures yield to their material-bound human bodies, revealed by exposed anatomical insides of intestinal tracts, veins, bones, and striated muscles.

Oakland artist John Felix Arnold III’s paintings at Loakal engage with primarily the female figure within motifs and designs of Asian graphic novels. Arnold deconstructs traditional narrative, reassembling them into moments of transformation wherein human figures are no longer the dominant species, becoming observers of catastrophic actions without cause or effect. Although sparingly clothed, the women’s bodies do not reflect the submissive stance typically accepted in both Western and Eastern art. Donning what look like leather jackets as well as eyeglasses, these women resist becoming demure subjects and instead return viewers’ glances and with arms outstretched,  seemingly orchestrating the chaos around them.

Through color, size, text, and a plethora of mediums and materials, James Swinson creates a vast body of work from a wide range of influences. Working in styles reminiscent of early 1950s Modernism and 1980s Neo-Expressionism, Swinson’s multiple-canvas paintings reveal abstracted images of androgynous figures and anonymous visages. Eschewing the figurative detail found in Bayly’s artworks, Swinson’s paintings maintain a visceral energy by scratching words and phrases into the paint and dividing the canvas into smaller vignettes, expressing either an opaque narrative or the limitations of the canvas upon which they are painted.

Figurations will be at Loakal Gallery through the month of January.