Keeping it real

Boyd Gavin at the John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis

Boyd Gavin, “Still Life, Squirt Bottle,” oil on canvas.

Boyd Gavin, “Still Life, Squirt Bottle,” oil on canvas.

When I read the press release for the new show at the John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, I was instantly excited to go see it. For one, Peter Vandenberge—one of the three artists featured—has accomplished quite a bit, with showings at the Louvre, for example. I hadn’t been to the gallery since it moved into its new space, so I was also interested in that. But it was the description of Boyd Gavin’s work that really caught my attention—realism, landscapes of miniature golf courses and still lifes that involve the theme of “play"—seemed intriguing.

The new building isn’t hard to find. It’s directly in front of you at the first stoplight after the Richards Blvd. underpass into Davis, coming from I-80. An unnecessary neon sign that reads “ART” glows in the window. Walking in is wonderful and overwhelming. Three floors, tastefully packed with high-quality paintings and sculptures, occupy the space (it’s rumored the gallery plans to convert the roof to a sculpture garden). The dynamics and flow of how and where everything is placed speak of a gallery that understands what it is doing. Small, thought-provoking paintings hang in little nooks by the staircase, while in an enormous ground-floor room, large paintings and sculptures have plenty of room for viewers to take in.

Boyd Gavin’s paintings are situated on the third floor in an area perfect for the size of his work. It’s nice, too, when an artist has a room or floor all to himself, offering full, undivided attention. Gavin’s largest paintings here are mountain images resembling the Sierras. From across the room they demand the most attention; although they’re not the strongest pieces in the show, they offer a contrast to the others.

The miniature golf course paintings don’t read overtly as such, and I couldn’t determine if I enjoyed knowing this or not before seeing them—but some of the compositions are fantastic. They feature a nice juxtaposition between the organic nature of rocks and water and carefully landscaped geometric concrete and brick forms with a perfect green backdrop. Little brightly colored light fixtures on the ground sit well as interesting forms.

The still lifes are my favorite. Gavin paints in a very straightforward manner, with a loose brushstroke and bright palette that lends itself well to painting small, easily recognizable objects such as crayons and marbles. He also has a penchant for glassware, not an easy thing to paint. One painting in particular, of a glass jar lying on its side, is brought to life by a simple broad stroke of pure white along its top edge.

All these paintings are done in perfect scale, the compositions are well balanced, the colors are bright, the subjects are playful and fun and the themes are simply enjoyable. The pieces even illustrate light well, and that always seems to be the tricky part of realist paintings. Regardless of style, if a painting can pop, it usually is headed for the finish line in first place. But after examining these works closely, I was able to put my finger on what some of these paintings lacked—clarity. The bag in this one, the shadow next to a tree in this, the rocks in this one … the images are close to being perfectly consistent, yet the eye finds a place to get frustrated. Anyone who’s ever picked up a paintbrush knows that juggling all the elements that make a painting great isn’t easy. Given that, Gavin is doing better than most.