Type: A Profound Marriage of Words and Visual Art
Golden West College Art Gallery, Huntington Beach
opened March 5
Written by Genie Davis
In an exhibition that is steeped in meaning and brewed with talent, Type, which opened March 5th at GWC Gallery at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, served as a prescient illustration of today’s social condition.
Melding the use of words, language, and the look of type itself with powerful and often political or potently emotional art, the exhibition was just about perfectly on-point with the crossroads at which we now stand.
It is through art and language that culture survives. The remoteness so many of us experience now is lifted by a wide variety of “type.”
The exhibition features the work of artists Colt Bowden, Thomas P. Mueller, Jennifer Celio, Catharin Eure, Steven Wolkoff, Katie Purdue, John Geary, Joe O’Neill, Jackie Bell Johnson, Tm Gratkowski, Dani Dodge, Steve Metzger, Max King Caps, Adam Mars, Lilli Muller, Susan Ossman, Michelle Andrade, Annie Terrazzo, Diane Williams, Bryan Ida, Keith Walsh, Cynthia Underwood, Joy Ray, Maude Tanswai, Bri Cirel, the Panik Collective and more.
Each artist uniquely interprets the use of text-based content in their work. From street art to photography, from sculpture to contemporary painting, the seamless marriage of written language and the visual creates a visceral intensity that is, pun intended, letter perfect.
Bryan Ida’s “Manzanar” is a passionate, gorgeous image of three men behind barbed wire. Created in ink on panel, the work uses minutely crafted words as if they were brush strokes, to create this image based on an iconic photograph by Toyo Miyatake. The words used themselves are taken from Executive Order 9066, authorizing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans on the west coast. It is a stunningly detailed work that is as haunting and resonant as it is delicately beautiful.
Dani Dodge’s “Eavesdropping,” a series of 30 photos on canvas, documents her own public art project. It too is deeply poignant, a profound commentary on life and love. The artist uses photographs she took of mattresses abandoned around Los Angeles — on which she has written words either culled from film and television, or highly personal ones by her late husband from the beginning to end of their journey together. There is both such joy, such sorrow, and such humanity in these images that it would be hard not to feel both immersed by them and intensely moved. The quintessentially Los Angeles-looking places in which the mattresses were tossed adds a further sense of “being there” to the images, each of which has its own pearl-like palette.
With Susan Ossman’s glowing “Gather Wood/Gather Words; The Bride,” words are bundled like a bridal bouquet of brittle sticks, dripping red. The red falls against a section of the canvas that resembles white organza, like a wedding dress, spilling as if it were wine or blood. All around this acrylic, paper, and ink on canvas image – central to, but positioned off-center from, the whole of the canvas, a burnt orange palette evokes fire, rust, sunset. On the far-left side of this radiant image, a long narrow strip of words descends like a snake or an escaped stick of wood. There is something mysterious and tribal about this piece, something that recalls a time both before words and filled with the inchoate longing that words themselves cannot express.
Jennifer Celio’s “On the Thursday Side” uses watercolor, acrylic, twine, embroidery thread and beads in a sensual and surreal work that depicts a somewhat rocky pine-studded landscape ribbed by turquoise pillars – reminders of a pointless border wall or monoliths from the future. Spread across the top of the piece are the words “Pls do not broken.” Ribbons of twine and thread and beads drip off the canvas, half dream catcher, half tears. Speaking of dreams, her “Dreamland” spells out an embroidered “Rolling in it” above a sunset streaked mountain top – a comment, perhaps on the conspicuous consumption in our society.
Tm Gratkorski’s collaged large-scale paper on wood panel “Polyphony” is a silvery dazzle, a brain-melting image that reminds the viewer of non-stop news and social media, the rush of words and the glitter of gratification that spills out from the ever-porous surface of technology.
In a stunning mobile, Jackie Bell Johnson’s “External Factors” is suspended from the ceiling to trail onto the floor. Ink on paper words burst from small hand printed cards that are suspended from cotton cord and bamboo. The messages are both emotional and political, a woven web of socio-economic meaning. Never have the repeated image of “Profit over life” been more pertinent. Viewers could, at the opening, walk among the hangings, literally and figuratively immersing themselves in a floating sea of words.
Also suspended from the ceiling is Diane William’s “INcongrunence Module 3 of 9,” a weaving of yarns and recycled and salvaged material from her friends and neighbors, a neighborhood thrift shop and the Fabric District in DTLA. It is an amalgam of thread, fabric, plastic, wire, and shredded paintings. She describes the piece as reflecting immigrant communities as well as the nation at large, illustrating the diversity and division that are both a part of our lives in this country. Embedded down the middle is the word “immigrant,” which everyone in this country, save its indigenous people, are. It is a loose binding, illustrating our samenesses and our fragility, as well as today’s alien belief in differentness.
Steven Wolkoff uses bright mustard colored paint to spell out a literal mountain of the word “name” in a sculptural piece, “1,00 names”; Joy Ray says “No no no” in mixed media that includes charcoal and graphite on paper; and Cynthia Underwood expresses possibly most succinctly the state of the world leading up to today’s pandemic culture simply and succinctly titled “Fuck on Clouds.”
Too numerous to mention, each of the works here is profoundly worth a digital visit, as the gallery and the college itself are currently closed. Do reach out to GWC Gallery for a look at each of the artists’ works. See many of the works on Facebook.