Synchronicity at Roberts Projects

Dominic Chambers, Understanding the Sky,
Synchronicity, Roberts Projects; Image courtesy of the artist and Robert Projects, Los Angeles

Chance Governs All

Roberts Projects, Culver City
closed December 5, 2020

Chance governs all.

John Milton

Chance is the providence of adventurers.

Napolean Bonaparte

Written by Nancy Turner
In the 1920’s, Carl Jung coined the phrase “synchronicity” which he defined as “the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no causal connection” either apparent or provable. This term describes the powerful and surprising confluence of inner-space and outer worlds joining in a consequential way that many of us experience while creating. Synchronicity is the title and concept for an exciting group exhibit at Roberts Projects by twelve artists whose work deals with identity, myth, symbol and history, while often bridging cultural divides.

Amoako Boafo, is a Ghanaian born artist now living in Vienna, whose finger-painted portraits are sizzling hot in the art market now. As a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna who still resides in Vienna, it is not surprising to see the influence (though in a gentler, less edgy way) of Egon Schiele’s gestural paint handling of skin (with a dollop of Oskar Kokoschka). Boafo states, “I want to paint the Black diaspora, or Black people, the way I see them.” And he has. Here his 2019 oil on canvas, 40 x 30” painting entitled “Nuerki”, is notable for its strong diagonal composition, dramatic contrast and Boafo’s trademark sensuous finger painted skin. In this compelling portrait, the sitter stares with great wariness and a bit of haughtiness at the viewer, daring the viewer to look away.

Otis Kwame Ky Quaicoe, another Ghanaian born artist now residing in Portland, has known Boafo for years (from Ghaatta College of Art and Design) and in a touch of serendipity was visiting him in Los Angeles in 2019 when Boafo had to leave. Quaicoe started painting in Boafo’s studio and was essentially discovered by Boafo’s gallerist and invited to show with him. Now that’s synchronicity. Both painters deal with the Black body in a figurative and delightfully idiosyncratic way. Quaicoe’s work has strong colors, shapes, patterns and textures often with a thickly almost stuccoed background surface (inspired, he says, by the mud and wood houses back home) as in the portrait of a young man with hat (a favorite accessory for Quaicoe’s subjects,) “Untitled”, 2020, oil on canvas, 48 x 36inches. Upbeat, slightly exaggerated, with a joie de vivre, these often large-scale paintings dazzle. Quaicoe’s work blends his own experience as an African with those of Black Americans whom he has interviewed so that his work might blend the two cultures into one Black identity.

Kenyan native Wangari Mathiege’s portrait paintings focus on women alone or in pairs and with family and friends. Her more complex, intimate living room scenes call to mind the Nigerian painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s mixed media paintings. Mathiege’s juicy paint handling and cacophony of patterns create compelling views of ordinary people in their own homes or spaces sleeping, reading, and just being, as in “The Ascendants VI (Imperial Reckoning)”, 2020, oil on canvas, 68 x 90 inches. As in Crosby’s work, Mathiege includes books, foods, furniture, rugs that give clues to the inhabitant’s social class and lifestyle.

Kehinde Wiley achieved superstar artworld status with his richly detailed trademark large-scale intricately framed portraits which situated young hip Black men in poses appropriated from art history. But here in “Wiley’s Portrait of Jordan Phillips ll”, 2020, oil on linen, 96.1 x 64 inches, a nattily dressed young Black man is in a frontal position, head turned regarding us warily, arms wrapped protectively about his body. He is enmeshed, literally embedded, caught and held in place by the dense flora and fauna behind him, whose delicate and hallucinogenic fronds enclose him. In this era of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, this shift in position from heraldic to protective reflects the still tenuous and dangerous position people of color still find themselves in, in this America of 2021.

Upon entering the gallery, one sees an enormous minimalistic 2012 sculpture by Brenna Youngblood, who also has two wonderful mixed media paintings in the show. At first this sculpture seemed like an anomaly in this figurative painting exhibition. The symbol “X” represents many different things. From X marks the spot in Pirate treasure map; to finding the unknown factor in mathematics; to a mark instead of a signature for an illiterate person; to a wrong answer on a test, “X” essentially means dismissed, underrated and invisible and may be read as a political statement as well, and in that sense it can be seen as a constructed self-portrait of a marginalized people.

The mixed media assemblage “Objects, Obsessions and Obligations”, 2013 49 x 20 x 13 by the indomitable Betye Saar, can also be seen as a self -portrait. It is an elegant assembly on patinaed blue-green shelves, filled with an evocative brew of similarly colored pale blue-green medicinal/magical objects imbued with spiritual vigor.

Jeffrey Gibson is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and half Cherokee, and his sculptural work highlights traditional Native American craft but with a modernist twist. His work intentionally mediates between past, present and future. One could call it Indigenous Futurism, a term coined by Anishinaabe writer Grace L. Dillon. “No Simple Word For Time”, 2014, wool army blanket, glass beads, rawhide, Mongolian goat fur, quartz crystals, tin jingles, artificial sinew, nylon thread, metal wire, steel rod, aspen wood base, 78.4 x 34.75 x 12.5inches, is a stunning sculpture that references everything from Native American clothes to ancient Asian warrior head pieces and African masks and ceremonial costumes.

Ardeshir Tabrizi is an Iranian born American artist whose work also bridges two cultures. “Sitting Courier interwoven in yellow”, 2020, graphite and gouache on printed paper mounted to canvas, a highly patterned visual of two images sliced and reassembled, is a historical investigation into Iranian/Persian religion, myth and aesthetics. Henry Taylor, Lenz Geerk, Dominic Chambers and Daniel Crews-Chubb round out this stellar group of artists.

An additional treat, in the smaller back gallery space is a series of 10 painterly mixed-media collages from the 1970’s by the fabulously versatile and iconic Rachel Rosenthal, who was primarily known for her performance art. Her collage is all about synchronicity as fragments of text, image and surface are manipulated to create an intriguing intellectual and sensory melange. It was refreshing to see this beautifully curated and thoughtful exhibit filled with artists working in the space between cultures while merging different aesthetic considerations to produce such vibrant and engaging work.

Roberts Projects
5801 Washington Blvd, Culver City, 90232

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