Shades of Gray

February 3rd, 2011

This article originally appeared on February 3, 2011 in The Island. Michele Ellson, editor.

Zsuzsanna Laszlo, Memories of a Glacier (detail), 2010. Gesso, oil paint, board, wire.

“Black-and-white” works of art often aren’t. As the statement for the exhibit at Rhythmix Cultural Works explains, “black-and-white” is often used to describe any monochromatic work, including those rendered in sepia or shades of gray. The irony is that “black-and-white” metaphorically suggests something that is straightforward and unambiguous, while “shades of gray” implies the opposite.

Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray.

– The Monkees, “Shades of Gray”

Zsuzsanna Laszlo was awarded the Toki and Mona Froyland awards by Cal State University, East Bay for her mixed-media installation piece, “Memories of a Glacier,” which “tries to analyze the notion of ‘disappearance’ in nature and especially glaciers.” Her skeletal framework masterfully uses negative space to preserve the image of a glacier for posterity and at the same time is a haunting silhouette, a ghostly after-image of another great natural wonder which may soon be extinct.

Laszlo writes: “What remains after the glacier is gone? … Sometimes I wonder if it is too late and if future generations might only know of glaciers by looking at pictures. My thin lines try to mimic the cracking sounds a glacier makes when it falls apart. Through my work, I try to raise a mirror before society in which nature is reflected, so we may notice and listen to the sounds nature makes as it disappears.”

Philip Long, Original Two Banger, 2010. Leather, thread, and wood.

According to leather artist Philip Long, every piece he creates is a self-portrait. His black-and-white “Original Two Banger” compares his human heart to a two-cylinder combustion engine.

“I’m a runner. The heart pounding is something in my blood,” Long said. “And the two-banger is one of those gear-head things I love. It’s the very first one we’re all born with.”

His choice of material emphasizes the work’s organic subject, yet the lub-dub of the heart leaves the eye craving blood red. Long has completed a color painting of this image as well, and is working on a color version of the leather piece.

“The show came up and I thought it would be interesting to do a value study of it,” Long explains.

Poetic surrealist works like Long’s “Tribute to an Idiot” — a portrait of a neglectful waiter he encountered at an Italian restaurant in Hawaii — begin as a type of automatic drawing, a technique he learned in kindergarten.

“I borrow a ball point pen from somebody, and close my eyes and scribble on a piece of junk mail or a napkin, then glance at the scribble,” Long said. “Sometimes it’s a face or a drum set. When you glance at the scribble looking at the crossing lines, you’re looking for things that your brain recognizes. That’s when I start adding to and omitting lines.” In the case of “Tribute to an Idiot,” he borrowed the waiter’s pen.

Most of the leather Long uses is recycled. He went to fashion design school and has been sewing leather for 22 years; whenever he does an alteration he holds on to the scraps. He also takes the sides and back off of couches he finds. And when he created a portrait to honor three fallen Oakland police officers, the leather was donated by their families.

Brendan Clunn, Bull. Steel.

Artist/Welder Brendan Clunn of Apocalypse Ironworking in Oakland portrays “living and dying expressed through the body language of animals.”

Scattered about the gallery, a steel pelican fans its wings, a deer forages, and a bull founders. While not black-and-white, Clunn’s sculptures are monochromatic, and complement Long’s organic/mechanical hybrid piece and Laszlo’s meditation on death in and of nature.

“Black & White” also includes drawings by David Peniston and Angie Martorana, mixed-media paintings by Kate Kosmos, and a “wearable sculpture” by TonyaMarie. The exhibit runs through March 5, with a reception on February 11 in conjunction with Estuary Art Attack.

“Black & White” is in the K Gallery at Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Avenue, Alameda. (510) 865-5060.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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