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April 08, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, April 08, 2005

The artistic block of Bryant Street The artistic block of Bryant Street (April 08, 2005)

Three galleries welcome new exhibits

by Katie Vaughn

Take a stroll down Bryant Street this month and you'll encounter three opportunities to view unique, thought-provoking artwork.

New exhibits at ArtsIndia West, Bryant Street Gallery and Stellar Somerset Gallery offer works that vary drastically in style and media -- from representational to purely abstract, mixed-media collage to oil on canvas -- but prompt viewers to examine layers upon layers of content to construct meaning.

The oil paintings in "Chanchal Mukherjee: Solo Show" combine elements of reality and fantasy to form mysterious dreamscapes. Opening today and running through May 15 at ArtsIndia West, the show is the Indian artist's first solo exhibit in the United States. Many of his most recent works feature bold colors applied in soft lines and textured forms, while some paintings in the show verge on cubism, with strong lines and overlapping planes of color.

"He has the diversity to go back and forth, said gallery director Madhurika Dev. "There's so much hidden in his paintings that you have to look through different layers to find out what he's saying."

The large oil "Man and Horse" creates an ominous mood, with deep shades of yellow and navy splitting the canvas diagonally. Within these color blocks lie geometric forms and cubist-style blocks of coordinating colors. Occupying most of the composition is a large white horse, formed with jagged sketch marks and angular, slashing white brushstrokes. In contrast to this skeletal creature with a menacing face is a relatively small mask in the lower left corner of the canvas. A man's face, cast in shades of blue and white, calmly but intensely stares out at the viewer.

Distinctly softer in style is "Woman in Blue Dress and Swan," another large oil on canvas. While the composition is packed with more elements and colors and provided more of a narrative than the former painting, it is much calmer. In the work, a woman looks across the composition at a white bird -- an element that appears in many of Mukherjee's paintings.

The woman is painted with a luminous gold face and large body, somewhat reminiscent of those by Fernand Léger and Pablo Picasso in the early 20th century. Between the woman and bird lies a wispy pool of water, with leafy braches painted underneath. And behind the figures is a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors, some soft-edged pyramid- and square-shaped and others sketched or splattered on. Looking closely at the painting, one begins to notice the variety of textures and shapes layered onto the painting.

Bryant Street Gallery offers dreamscapes of a different sort with "Judd Vetrone: New Paintings." Running through April 30, the collection of abstract paintings is a beautiful study in the possibilities of paint on canvas and panel. Vetrone, a San Francisco artist who has lived and worked around the country and taught English in rural China for two years, is not afraid to show his mark as the creator and the progression of his work in his paintings. But instead of making his works seem draughtsman-like, his inclusion of pencil marks adds a sense of vibrancy to the paintings.

"They've got a bit of a graffiti-esque quality to them," said director Karen Imperial. "His brushstrokes, his markings -- they're very expressive."

"Untitled II" is one in a series of square canvas paintings featuring large swatches of color brushed, splattered and poured on, with a series of small green and yellow pyramids. Shades of light pinks, greens and blues dominate this mixed-media painting in an almost watercolor-like effect. Smudges and layers of darker colors create a stormy cosmos environment, with long pencil lines adding drama.

"I think he has a beautiful sense of color," Imperial said. "It's very free."

More dynamic in tone is the mixed-media work "Relief I." Creamy white circular paint splats lie among red and black smudges, in addition to arcs, lines and a few geometric outlines. The circles create a sense of dynamism, adding energy to the painting.

The latest exhibit at Stellar Somerset Gallery, "James Lagiss: Book Paintings" showcases abstract paintings deeply embellished with sketches and clippings from newspapers and magazines. The paintings are taken from a previously unpublished series of more than 100 book paintings by Lagiss, a Peninsula native whose paintings, prints and sculpture are exhibited worldwide. The artist refers to the pieces in the exhibit as book paintings because he has included elements from mass media as well as actual books.

Many of Lagiss' works feature repeating images of teacups, birds, eyes and sunglasses. The artist, who is interested in symbolism and memory, also marks the passing of time by clearing his tools of paint on the edge of his canvasses, creating a thick buildup. Furthermore, he references periods of art history, including Neoclassical, Renaissance and Impressionist eras, through the details of his paintings.

"The effect is one of multiple layers," said director Adrienne Peterson, "of the history of the artist working through a variety of themes, as if telling a story. This relates as well to the effects of memory, where one finds clear details in one area and only a few selected remnants in another, that may be blurred or painted out."

"Oh My, Oh My," an oil and mixed-media work, is an ode to women. A background of primarily smudgy black and white, with swatches of turquoise and peach, sets a stage for a variety of surface decorations. Outlines of teacups repeat throughout the composition, while a painted woman's pump sits atop the canvas, with a gold frame built around to incorporate it into the composition. A small rectangular canvas is tacked on near the center, featuring a photograph of a Neoclassical female's legs, as well as the bottom of a woman's face. Though created with sketchy and bold brushstrokes, the painting's overall effect is somewhat soft.

Somewhat starker is "Oh! Darling Clementine," an enormous oil collage. Composed of a bright white and yellow center with darker greens and blues along the periphery, the painting's first point of visual impact is the large gray chair in the composition's bottom half. Surrounded in a cloud of white, it seems almost an apparition from a Vincent Van Gogh painting.

On both sides of the chair is a floral wallpaper-like pattern in yellows, golds and greens -- perhaps a reference to Van Gogh and Henri Matisse's inclusion of domestic patterns into their paintings at the turn of the century. In any case, the floral design adds a sense of layering to the painting.

Furthering that effect are black outlines of teacups, as well as photos and magazine clippings of women, a white couch, swans, eyes and a park scene. An open book is affixed to the center of the canvas, with its left page boasting a large "X" and its right page containing three images of a woman's bespectacled eyes, nose, mouth and legs. Like all of the paintings in this series, further inspection reveals more details worth contemplating.

An opening reception for the "Chanchal Mukherjee: Solo Show" exhibit will be held tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. at ArtsIndia West, 535 Bryant St. in Palo Alto. The exhibit runs through May 15. Call (650) 321-4900 or visit for more information.

A reception for the "Judd Vetrone: New Paintings" exhibit will be held tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bryant Street Gallery, 520 Bryant St. in Palo Alto. The exhibit runs through April 30. For more information, call (650) 321-8155 or visit

The "James Lagiss: Book Paintings" exhibit runs through April 30 at Stellar Somerset Gallery, 539 Bryant St. in Palo Alto. For more information, call (650) 328-6688 or visit

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