Turning in Circles
Nowadays, painting in southern California is all over the place, stylistically as well as geographically. But it has been adopted with particular verve by one still new, rapidly evolving genre. The manifold sources for this new genre, from graffiti to cartoons to psychedelia to car (and surf/skateboard) customizing and on and on, provide these self-styled, technically adept "lowbrow" or "newbrow" or "pop surrealist" painters with an immense variety of styles, subjects, attitudes, and rhetorics.
Riverside artist Jeff Soto has achieved an especially prominent place among the legions of "newbrow" painters. In his work of the past couple of years, Soto has reached a clarity of intent, as well as pitch of technique, that embodies a true vision - true, that is, to his grasp of reality, not just to the making of a richly faceted yet coherent image. Soto made his reputation on visually assured, pictorially ambitious paintings; now, he is challenging himself to produce visually challenging, even unstable imagery, imagery that reflects back at us something more than our need for entertaining stimulus.
Soto's new, perhaps more focused direction, an onset of musings on the perilous state of the world, came about in response to the birth of his daughter. The work is now rooted in the visual vocabulary of children (not, by the way, in their crude visual grammar) and is driven not by the adult preference for tales of caution but by the kids' own predilection for personifying all they desire and fear in a clearly delineated community, or species, of creature-characters. The work, according to Soto, is also rooted in his deep ambivalence about his (and his daughter's) environment. Although born in Orange County, Soto spent his youth in Riverside, discovered art at Riverside Community College, and continues to live here. The Inland landscape "is a common element [in] my paintings," Soto notes, identifying "gentle rolling purple hills," "dead dried up brush," a "rogue palm tree on the horizon," and even the Raincross as recurring motifs in his recent art. ("The smoky smog layer sometimes makes an appearance, as does decaying signage and oil pumps...") To Soto Riverside, with its down-to-earth ambience and diversity of communities, encapsulates the world - even more concisely than does nearby, but fantasy-absorbed and mask-wearing, Los Angeles.
Jeff Soto wants that salty ambience and visual-cultural diversity to suffuse his paintings. He is, after all, making a statement about humanity, never an easy thing to do, much less do eloquently. And he wants to make sure that we understand that he falls on the side of the "little guy." Soto - like so many artistic champions of the working man - doesn't aim for eloquence, but in his persistent refinement of his art he may achieve it. Turning In Circles is curated by Daniel Foster, RAM Executive Director and Lee Tusman, RAM Adult Education Curator.