So happy together

Sierra Nevada College

This sculpture is part of the Glad to be Unhappy show at Sierra Nevada College.

This sculpture is part of the Glad to be Unhappy show at Sierra Nevada College.

Glad to be Unhappy: New Work from San Francisco Art Institute Graduate Students is a small gem. On display at Sierra Nevada College’s Tahoe Gallery, the show features 12 works by six artists—Omar Chacon, David O. Johnson, Terina McCraw, Sue C. Pak, Jose Sarinana and Brian Wasson. It ranges from Pak’s complex wooden sculpture “Wood Sawdust” to Johnson’s cement block with a small arc of neon to Sarinana’s intricate and jagged works done in graphite on paper.

The neon colors and eye-dazzling patterns of Colombian-born Chacon’s works are loud, playful and weighty. Chacon has four pieces in the show. Working primarily with a glossy, plastic-like material over canvas, he applies the once-fluid medium in dollops and stripes. His choice of colors—bright pinks, acid yellows, brilliant turquoises—captures the eye like candy.

But there’s a gravity beyond the sticky sweetness. In one piece, patches of stripes are cut off and laid disjointedly upon one other in a jumbled crowd. It evokes a feeling of off-kilter chaos, unfinished business, unresolved momentum. In another, the goop is densely gathered on the right side of the work over strips of stripes which range from neon tones on the left to purples and reds on the right. Moving across the piece, the density of the plastic-y globs lessens. Inorganic plastic replicating the organic process of disbursement, high pressure to low? Migration? Traveling from one land to another?

McCraw’s sweet triptych makes the viewer pause to think about the kinder, more naïve, yet confounding, times of youth. Three small watercolor and ink images, paper edges bare and rough, hang in a row with a Pooh bear. The illustrations are placed over pencil-written words that can’t be read, while a wash of color—from pale oranges and reds to washed-out greens—faintly tones their surfaces. Hearts abound. A red bead-covered wire heart hangs over the nail from which the entire piece is suspended. Several more hearts are featured in each painting. The piece is gentle and sad, recalling innocence and child-like hope.

Wasson’s works speak of mass consumption, artifice and multiplicity. His “Black Box” tells the Aesop’s fable of the hares who found that “someone is always worse off than yourself.” The small plastic box, with running LED screen, scrolls the tale. A person reads it in an internal, mechanical voice as the letters reveal themselves in a halting one-at-a-time manner. The machine is storyteller, lulling children to sleep in a dehumanized fashion. Another of his works, “Scratch Off,” features three identical silver canvases, framed in white and wrapped in plastic. The piece asks a question of hope (what lies behind the scratch off? Fortune?) and replies with an answer of mass production. It speaks of the thousands of luck-wishers who desire riches without effort. But the sterility of these works, removed from the viewer by their cellophane wrappers, remind the attentive observer that such wealth is empty, even if a person wins.

All told, this is a wonderful, small collection of inspiring ideas and lovely works. It’s a credit to Gallery Director Russell Dudley and his efforts to bring such works to this quiet and secluded venue.