Connection is made
Configurations at Stremmel Gallery
I’ll describe a painting hanging at Stremmel Gallery right now. You tell me what it’s about.
Soft-edged, candy-colored, airbrushed vertical lines blur into each other on a canvas that’s 4 feet square. It looks like a photograph of tubes of neon, placed close together standing up and shot out of focus. The stripes are geometrically precise, angled straight up and down, and after a few seconds, they appear to vibrate against each other. Not in the metaphorical sense. I mean, it looks like they actually move.
Is it a close-up of something in Las Vegas, home of the British-born artist who painted it, Tim Bavington? Nope. A tribute to the mid-century minimalist Dan Flavin, who made sculptures out of actual neon tubes? Nope.
Perhaps the title will help. The painting is called “Blue Suede #2.” As in shoes? You’re getting warmer.
Bavington once told a video crew his take on choosing subject matter to paint: “I think it’s hard to paint something that you don’t have a connection to. So typically I paint something that I like.”
What he likes is music. He translates notes into colors and transforms riffs of pop or rock into stripes.
For Bavington, whose work is widely exhibited, collected and reviewed, this working process helps him explore how systems of organizing information work. For viewers, the reading is left wide-open to interpretation. I was mesmerized by the gorgeous colors and lines. Bavington’s paintings were to my eyes like eating an ice cream sundae is to my taste buds.
Another viewer found them boring for lack of narrative. Yet another was irked by the disconnect between the process of making the paintings and the way they looked. Even as I fantasized about hanging them over my couch, I had to concur that it was hard, maybe even impossible, to construct a mental bridge between the music that had been the impetus for the paintings and the fuzzy stripes and juicy colors that were seducing my eyes on their own terms.
How you take these paintings is going to depend largely on whether it’s OK with you that sometimes the motivations behind artworks and the discussions around them can be a lot different than the experience of looking at those very same pieces. This can be especially true with abstract art, which is the focus of this four-person exhibit at Stremmel, called Configurations.
Another painting in the show that exemplifies the difference between the motivations behind a work and the experience of seeing it is by John Belingheri, a Pioche native who lives in Berkeley. He paints large canvasses with arrangements of oval-shaped dots. For each composition, he limits his color palette to, for example, a range of blues and browns with an eggshell-colored background. Within these limits, he achieves dozens of different surface textures, replicating the look of worn, old wooden signs or the appearance of rust leaking through the paint here and there. Just as with Bavington’s stripes, the artist’s use of materials and the general atmosphere the paintings convey—in this case one of comfortable austerity balanced with references toward some sort of inherent natural disorganization or entropy—is enough to make me really want to look at Belingheri’s paintings.
For perspective’s sake, my fellow viewers were again less entranced than I was. The painting’s aesthetics and the sensibilities they alluded to left my fellow viewers craving more intellectual stimulation. And here’s what Belingheri says in his artist’s statement: “My paintings are a reflection of what I am struggling with and thinking about both in my conscious and unconscious thoughts.” I have to confess: much as I was enjoying the paintings, I hadn’t seen that coming.