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San Francisco
ross campbell, Jeremiah Jenkins
Hatch Gallery
492 23rd St., Oakland, CA 94612
December 4, 2009 - January 29, 2010

Meet Me At The Letter "G"
by Andy Ritchie

Hatch Gallery these days is a matrix of systems revealed to the atom, with symbols cymbal-crashing and reassembling as contemporary objects. Numbers, letters, and words are everywhere, and when you look closer, they're lining the cracks too. Jeremiah Jenkins floods the front space of this two-artist show, making do with little (in one case turning the Declaration of Independence into a rhythmic, full-page strikethrough). Common US coins go from metal to medal of honor. Then, beguilingly, this low-tech approach is usurped by etched bullets and laser-cut paper. Surprisingly, the tone doesn't shift with the change in sophistication; progressing through the gallery, though, brings an accumulation of cynicism that turns a jocular, light hand into a heavy one.

Near-painful punning and irony becomes a fairly trite treatment of social illness. But Jenkins is effective when turning frustrations to small victories. His blaze-orange motivational sandbags are stenciled with prodding encouragement like "It'll be fine," "You can do it," and "Stay calm." The message? Protect. Rebuild. Likewise, his baseball-grenade hybrids (M-67s) promote a Use what you've got type of ethos. His imaginative work needs combing for edits. Just sayin'...he could use a strong critical voice.

Small puns like Hairbrush, Credit Trap (a mousetrap via old AMEX), and Swiss Army Knife could be described instead of made, in my opinion. (They're clever à la editorial cartoons.) Across from Jenkins' ledge of small wonders (AMEX, etc.) run Ross Campbell's wall of photographs, a random shuffling of two-digit numbers. Each painted number, on a hacked and decrepit wooden sign, was once a practical way of ordering each blue-skied plot of land, posted in mottled, dry grass. Campbell has taken order and synthesized decay and randomness. It's a love-punch to Jasper Johns and The Count, but I like it.

The waters muddy up at the gallery's rear; the physical convergence of both artists' work creates an unsettling blend of identities--it's the symbols/cymbals clashing. It starts with Campbell flirting with the standard alphabet form, depositing both clean and blackened hand-made print blocks below his ordered, gridded, black-and-white print. The pixilated design reveals an artist desirous of a rigid and true standard. The standard ricochets into chaos in the neighboring print, surprisingly the same alphabetic grid, but in a unique overlay of colors. The grid creates a standard deviation, for (mis)registration purposes, and the results are beautiful. The miasmatic color shifts of the red, yellow, and blue, printed one atop another, offset by a pixel, create elaborate and unexpected negative spaces like multi-hue checkerboard patterns.

Following a similar pixel format (but with a nod to Maya Lin's landscapes) are Campbell's twinned ceremonial masks. The black-to-white (and white-to-black) gradients again address his interest in order, forward and reverse, through painted cubic blocks. More instructional than decorative, the masks' stark frontality still reminds me of AJ Fosik's wooden icons. But what do I know? I mistook Jenkins' 1300 Gs for Campbell's work. Granted, I had just been alpha-bombed by Campbell, so I saw a book of repeating letters and...well, waters got muddy. Of course, in Jenkins' hands the title takes on new meaning--$1300X1000?--and the piece itself becomes less a book than a wallet. Cool.

Yet this piece stumped me. I saw Campbell first and not Jenkins, and I think there's success in that confusion. The intended fusion of Campbell and Jenkins works nearly as well: a VR landscape—a faux Middle East, maybe—sits just adjacent to 1300 Gs and interplays Campbell's palm tree with a Jenkins sandbag ("Trust Yourself"). This creates a context for Campbell's work outside of the abstract and visually anchors the show with orange sandbags—remember that flurry up front? Front to back, there's plenty to see between the sandbags. If you get lost I'll meet you at the letter "G".

- Andy Ritchie, artist and writer living in Oakland, CA

(Jeremiah Jenkins, Spare Change, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist and Hatch Gallery)

Posted by Andy Ritchie on 12/21/09

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