“Life Force” at The Blackboard Gallery
Written by Jennifer Susan Jones
The Blackboard Gallery at Studio Channel Islands is hosting a new exhibition called “Life Force” with artists Hiroko Yoshimoto and Bob Privitt from Sept. 1 through 24 at 2221 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo.
It takes a certain type of artist to present a viewer with work that I would describe as “confusing – in a good way.” In his body of work titled “In & Out of the Box,” Bob Privitt uses unrelated, cast-off objects to build stories or depict his dreams in various boxes that are hung or set up for viewers to approach and discover. The re-purposing of these objects delivers novel meaning and unexpected insights into the complex and humorous nature of the human condition. The sizes of the (cigar, wine, or drawer) boxes are very close in width to our heads, and the text and found objects inside these boxes draw us intimately toward them for further inspection. We look inside these story boxes with an intrigue delivered via shape, color, and the words of poetry and dream journal entries written by the artist.
Found objects such as antique toys, metal or glass balls, wishbones, and bullets, are presented together in a way which begs understanding: we know they are out of place but we approach these boxes with a creative motivation to understand what we’re looking at. Humans naturally search for meaning and patterns in things that, at the outset, often appear disparate – we are archaeologists uncovering bones, each one a clue to the big picture. The Privitt pieces work in much the same way, and to make things even more interesting, we never know if the next piece we approach will be something serious – like his piece about children being taken by train to the concentration camps – or humorous, like his piece about a leather-clad biker explaining that a metal tool found at a thrift shop is in fact an antique egg separator.
Privitt, who was a journeyman iron worker and welder before starting college, builds assemblages based on compositional elements such as color and form, as well as the symbolic representation of key items. For example, his use of marbles and antique toys are throwbacks to his own childhood in which he was not allowed to play with such “frivolous” objects. Growing up on a farm was hard work, and toys did not fit into his rigorous daily chore schedule. Now, as an artist, he has the freedom to use these toys to place something that was once forbidden at the forefront of his work and in front of the many eyes of his viewers.
Privitt claims that it is difficult to find common themes in his work: “I can go to the thrift store tomorrow and I will find something and it will send me in a radically different direction. I’m not married to this one. I’m not a very reliable lover, I just don’t care, I’ve found my new love and that is where I am at this moment. This is not unusual it is just like what I was saying in my message to you, I said I don’t know if you are going to be able to find a theme.” In his Life Force body of work however, conflict is a common theme: conflicts we have while awake as well as those of our dreams. It’s as if Bob, as well as those looking at his work, are wondering, “What does all of this mean?” There are no wrong answers, it’s simply that Bob’s work illustrates the human process of self-reflection and discovery; interpreting a Privitt assemblage is much like our own process of looking inside of ourselves: it is making sense of what we saw that day, conversations we had, conversations we heard, the people we meet and friends we have known – we are trying to make sense of them all – no matter how unrelated they may seem.
Hiroko Yoshimoto is exhibiting a body of work produced within the last five years titled “Biodiversity.” Hiroko states that this series reflects her “ardent wish that life’s diversity would continue to flourish in the face of accelerated destructive forces created by human hand.” Hirokos large oil paintings, which consist of pure hues alongside diffused tints, display shapes that flow organically in twists and swirls which bend and fan out on her canvases and panels. The forms grow in and out of each other with no start or end, as if we are looking into a microscopic snapshot of an interdependent, harmonious community of plankton. Hiroko, who was born and raised in Japan but moved to LA as a teen, states that “the seemingly infinite and wondrous diversity of life forms, like the microbes in a drop of water, inspires unique colors, shapes, and lines that then come alive on my canvas.” This is indeed evident in the way strands of DNA seem to dance among sea kelp and organelles in a wash of (what could be either) refreshing blue sea water, or fragrant, lavender-colored cytoplasm. And the fact that something as tiny as the building blocks of life have been enlarged and placed elegantly on display upon the gallery walls serves to elevate the importance of Hiroko’s wish for nature’s resilience.
In addition to her paintings, Hiroko’s many spiral-bound journals are displayed in the gallery, and it is lovely to see the free-form sketches that she creates as quick compositions and musings upon her themes. These sketches have a rhythm which Hiroko says is “much like music which flows from one corner to another, like threads of color with bright splashes.” There is beautiful movement in these sketches, movement which often inspires motifs the artist uses in her larger compositions.
In an elegantly well-produced video biography on her website, Hiroko describes that when she depicts a more science-related theme she doesn’t refer to any photographs or representational images to make her abstract paintings – they are complete figments of her imagination. The artist intends to make work which is “abstract in nature and non representational” as she believes abstract art can immediately express emotional content. Her “Biodiversity” work is abstract but she states that it evokes representational images in the viewer’s mind.
The “Life Force” show of Bob Privitt and Hiroko Yoshimoto is one of delightful contrast. Contrast of color, size, price, all of these things differ in the two bodies of work exhibited here. Hiroko’s work is mostly large in size – her canvases tower above our heads, and stretch wider than our arm spans – and her work is organic in its movement, and pastel in its color. Privitt’s work is small, invites intimacy, and is generally comprised of primary colors – reds, yellows, blues, alongside silvers, blacks, and whites. It is made up of wood and metal, with the hard edges of squares and lines and the pop and shine of smooth circles. But somehow, after viewing the work and thinking about it, you’ll find there actually are commonalities in these two bodies of work – it just takes some patient digging to uncover the big picture.