Writing about the arts is an awkward task, because the arts are a world with a language all its own. Painting, sculpture, dance, music and other forms have a way of interacting with their audiences, not to mention the artists creating them, in a way that is pure and direct. This true meaning only gets obscured by translating the experience into words. Sometimes, dancing around art can function fine in reviews, by comparing and contrasting works against other works, or by describing what’s there and what’s happening. But reviews rarely hit the clear feeling of the piece described, and a wall is created between artwork and literal description. Sometimes, writing around the art is all you can do, and you just have to get on with the impossible task. Other times, that effort just seems pointless.
Such is the case with the work of California State University, Sacramento, professor Tom Monteith, on display this month at JayJay. The facts are clear: large-format abstracts with a distinct palette of grays, blues, oranges and fluorescent yellows. Monteith’s older works lean toward a more representational style, with distinct forms present, but accurate description stops around there. The instant it seems like he’s progressing away from form and light, there’s evidence that it’s not true. And just when colors seem intense, there appear patches of dull unending gray. Any time you try to pin him down, he escapes. Even attempting to say this makes it seem as though his work lacks consistency. But once again, it’s not true; the work is instantly recognizable as Monteith’s.
Basically, the artist’s work has a life to it that just exists. Monteith can’t necessarily control what he’s created—therefore, putting him in a position to manipulate it—but he’s wise to what is there, and he continues to paint and experiment and live with a world that is ultimately an extension of himself. Viewing these large paintings in the space, you notice a flow of contrasting elements that form the foundation of a world that speaks loud and clear, but only in a language understood through the eye and the heart, not words or mind.