For over a week now, the California sky has been glowing a putrid yellow-gray. Ash occasionally rains on parked cars and front lawns outside tightly closed doors and windows. In 2020, there have been nearly 7,500 wildfires in the “Golden State” alone while the world surpasses 27.3 million cases of people infected by COVID-19 – and fall has only begun. Natural disasters and the global pandemic are only two components of a difficult year that has left many of us in a recurring state of emergency, self-reflection, and adaptation.
New Thought writer and psychologist Shakti Gawain says, “In creative visualization, you use your imagination to create a clear image, idea, or feeling of something you wish to manifest.” Would it be the same if we applied this thinking to our environment? For Art Basel’s OVR:2020, Various Small Fires presents six California artists whose new artworks seem to work by these laws of attraction – reflecting a collective consciousness in their visions of utopian spaces or unified desires.
As we move towards the end of an unimaginable year that is increasingly uncertain, perhaps the projected dream state provides more clarity than the reality. Through painting and multi-media sculpture, these artists give physical shape to their ideals while subconsciously reflecting their concerns with the current state of our world.
Diedrick Brackens’ textile narratives are shaped by his evolving encyclopedia of allegorical symbols. In grief has no gills, a figure is caught mid-jump through a body of water, their body split between a hypnotic sky and blood-red reservoir. His tapestries bear the traces of numerous methods and traditions, including Kente cloth in West Africa and the mythical tapes-tries of medieval France, Belgium, and Italy.
Based in the desert outside of Palm Springs, Jessie Homer French dwells upon the life cycles of resilient landscapes through paintings of rural scenes, animals, stealth bombers and natural disasters with dark humor and biting candor. In 0% Contained, French depicts exactly that – an uncontrolled wildfire blazing through a pine forest. Having painted such scenes for about 50 years, the imagined landscape, although far from idyllic, is a stern yet hopeful reminder of nature’s unbelievable strength despite recurrent human recklessness.
For Judith Linhares, who grew up capering among the beach cities and mountainsides of Southern California, her dream journals double as sketches for luminous, uninhibited paintings. Often portraying nudist women cavorting outdoors or flowering still lifes dangling between fantasy and reality, Linhares presents utopian possibilities while unpacking gendered fables and domestic allegories. In her latest series of bouquets, September Flowers is a dizzying display of bountiful blooms against a dreamlike interior of striated wallpaper and tablecloth.
Applying objects and materials collected over the years, Anna Sew Hoy sculpts imagined edifices with coils of clay and found bird cages. Fired at high temperatures, the metal and clay structures softly melt and harden together, creating a surrealistic dance in which material and imagination intersect. In Memory of a Future, a rock tied by a strip of denim swings gently past a pair of forgotten keys caught in the caged material.
Calida Rawles’ photorealist paintings of female figures swimming through cosmic blue ripples capture the healing quality of water. Often abstracting the imagery above vs. below the water’s surface, Rawles creates a dichotomy between the calming stillness of blue and frenetic surface of swirling white waves and fragmented reflections. In On the Sea of Time, a woman appears to descend into a peaceful expanse while her reflection tapers off into the darkness behind her, leaving a chaotic world behind as if shedding a new skin.
Glen Wilson’s community-based practice takes inspiration from the city infrastructure, the local fixtures, and the daily connections with others off the street. Displayed in recto-verso, his work seamlessly integrates photography, sculpture, and assemblage by weaving strips of his hi-res photographs through found chain link fences collected over the years in the rapidly gentrified city of Venice.