“Oakland art viewers get up close and personal with three powerful artmakers.”
At the opening reception for Transfiguration at Joyce Gordon Gallery, I saw paintings and sculptures by an impressive trio of artists: Chukes, Gerald Griffin and Monjett Graham. The opening was RSVP requested and the place was jammed with a lively crowd, drawn by the quality of the work and the opportunity to meet the distinguished artists.
Chukes’ clay sculptures of heads and busts are distinguished by consistent use of subtle, deep value and a melancholy palette. The faces are all stylistically related, looking like family portraits, due in great part to the elongation of the features. Chukes’ work is intended to celebrate African-American and African historic art and culture, and references to stylized masks is an element in the abstraction of his work. The heads are on long necks, between hands which seem to be holding the faces between them. The introspective response to the works was interesting, as the gallery viewers tended to pause, stop conversation, and take a long look.
This was true for all three of the artists’ works. Gerald Griffin, a Chicago-based artist who is also a writer and sculptor, had both small and large format paintings on display. His dramatic figures have a strength and sensuous presence, characterized by deep chiaroscuro. The exquisite skill of the painting includes the hand of the artist revealed, with occasional palette-knife swathes of heavy paint that emphasize the gesture of a dancer’s hand, or the texture of an urban building. Here too, the viewers paused, arrested in front of the paintings by their depth and compelling sense of life.
Monjett Graham has made the San Francisco Bay his home for many years, and his latest series of paintings are developed from working with Chinese calligraphy, inspired by SF Chinatown. Monjett taught himself the meanings of the pictographs, and incorporates them into the paintings. The most recent works are now based on the pictographs themselves, writ large enough to break out of the frame of a four by five foot canvas. The energy and rhythm of Monjett’s work is in the very best of abstract tradition, imbuing color and form with motion and presence; in his artist talk he mentioned using a household mop for applying sweeping strokes of paint. The paintings look as though pieces of the city’s walls have somehow appeared inside the building, and I think Monjett has that effect in mind.
The exhibition runs through October 28 and is well worth seeing. I intend to return for another long look at these works.