January 24th, 2013

This article originally appeared on January 24, 2013 in The Alamedan. Michele Ellson, editor.

Book clubs often start with intentions of sophisticated critical review, dissecting the motivations of the protagonist and tying their undoing to those of archetypes in Greek drama. However, after a few weeks of asking, “did anyone read the book?” their members typically opt to make popcorn and just watch the video instead, and finally disband.

Then there’s the Book Club at Van Kleefs. For the past eight years, BCVK has been gathering every Thursday night at Cafe Van Kleef at 1621 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. That sounds a bit prim, but “book club” and “café” are euphemisms for a group of artists that meet at a very hip and funky bar. On January 11, “Book Club at Van Kleefs” opened at K Gallery in Alameda, featuring the work of 17 of their members.

Agnes Yau, "Bitty Batties" and "Tentative Tentacles." Reversed glass painting.

Agnes Yau, “Bitty Batties” and “Tentative Tentacles.” Reversed glass painting.

Among the highlights of the exhibit are the gilded reversed glass paintings of Agnes Yau, in which the paint is applied to glass which is then flipped to view the image. This presents a unique challenge to the artist as the layers are built up in the opposite order that they would be on canvas, with details done first, and the background last. Yet in her “Tentative Tentacles” Yau combines the bodies of humans and squids with the detail of a naturalist, and the demons in her “Bitty Batties” show the influence of 16th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

King Shrubb, “A Purple Haze,” cardboard collage.

King Shrubb, “A Purple Haze,” cardboard collage.

Collage is sometimes mistaken for an “easy” medium in which to create, but it is difficult to do well, to combine the elements in a transformative way. King Shrubb, Robert Laney and Michael Mew each succeed in this, whether arranging their materials in the tight geometry of a scrambled sliding tile puzzle, floating untethered against an abstract mixed-media background, or pinned firmly in place like insects, respectively.

Rick Arnitz, whose bio lists SFMOMA and the San Jose Museum of Art among past venues, exhibits an oil on canvas from his Stars & Stripes series — a detail of the American flag — and an abstract painting resembling the muscular coils of a python at rest, created using small paint rollers. Other notable pieces include Rose Kelly’s “Vita,” an apron of stitched film negatives, and Norton Wisdom’s print “Explaining his art to the sphinx.”

Rick Arnitz, "Detail #1" & "Detail #2" oil on canvas.

Rick Arnitz, “Detail #1” & “Detail #2” oil on canvas.

Rounding out the exhibit are Mark Ashworth’s gouache and James Finnegan’s ink on paper, oil on canvas by Keith Ferris, watercolor and tinted silk screen by Fred Kling, Robert Murray’s photo collage, and mixed-media pieces by Gary Burgess, Josh Greenberg, Tom Young, Robert Hernandez, and the café’s own Peter Van Kleef.

Book Club Van Kleef describes themselves as “a local group of journeymen artists who began a tradition of meeting to discuss Art, Life, and Politics while enjoying a drink,” a romantic image that makes one long to revisit the cast of expatriates hanging out at a Paris café in Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” Or just rent “The Moderns,” instead.

A second reception for “Book Club at Van Kleefs” will be held at K Gallery on February 11, in conjunction with Estuary Art Attack. The exhibit runs through February 24.

K Gallery is located at Rhythmix Cultural Center at 2513 Blanding Avenue. They are open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. the second Friday of every month, and by appointment. (510) 865-5060. http://rhythmix.org/k-gallery.html.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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One response to “BCVK”

  1. LJV says:

    Sound like my kind of Book Club. 🙂
    Great article, as always.

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