Gestural, textured and asymmetrical, John Yoyogi Fortes' show at the SFMOMA Caffé Museo is a punk rock alternative to the American modernist legends Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams currently showing upstairs. While O'Keeffe's and Adams' work reflects the beauty of the outside world, Fortes' psychological landscapes strive to illustrate complexity of the self. His canvases are layered with impulsive colors, patterns and shapes which accumulate to both expose and conceal. Collaged images, often humorous and quizzical, are sprinkled within the picture plane, suggesting narrative themes. His pleasing palate contains hues which vary from pink to olive. This combination of elements makes the disjunctive scenes very appealing, and a stark contrast to the soothing landscapes exhibited upstairs.
Fortes' sense of humor is reflected in his piece "Pump it Up." An off-center sculpted bodybuilder flexes as if in a Mister Universe competition. Projecting from his rather small Speedo is a large thought bubble filled with a nebulous form. This blob becomes a central ingredient which may serve to symbolize artistic genesis. As gestural components loom large in his work, Fortes undoubtedly values corporeal mastery. The bodybuilder is also haloed, perhaps as a commentary on society or Mr. Fortes' own body image issues. Either way, I smiled when viewing it.
The painting entitled "Sword of Damocles" tackles more cerebral issues. This piece reveals another haloed figure, in contrast to "Pump it Up," only his head and shoulders are included. Positioned at the bottom of the painting, a beam of light projects from his eyes, directing the viewer through a sea of elements positioned above him. This composition includes several knotted masses and intricate mazes, repeated on the canvas. These elements express a psychological terrain of unsolvable puzzles and opaque obstructions. A dark dagger shape projects from the top and into the center of the composition as an ominous presence hanging above the figure. The title suggests that artistic liberty can sometimes carry a strenuous mental burden.
Fortes' work addresses a wide spectrum of personal and political issues, particularly identity, family and memory. The influence that comic books have had on him reflects more strongly in his previous work, but the sly humor of the genre remains in the work exhibited in this show.
John Yoyogi Fortes' work is on view at the SFMOMA Caffé Museo through June 30, 2009.