If Joey Enos and Tamra Seal represent New California Sculpture, as the title of their Ever Gold Gallery shows suggests, then the future looks bright. Literally bright. Like ultra ow-I’ve-singed-my-eyeballs bright.
Both artists play with shockingly vibrant hues that create a luminous alternate reality in the gallery space. The intense artificial colors seem to drip and melt, glow and flare. In the case of Seal, color and light enhance the otherworldly cinematic feel of the work. Enos’s hues, on the other hand, add to the cartoonish character of his pieces, swallowing up the many elements of each sculpture with a homogenous, plague-like frenzy. The two artists are an interesting complement to one another, and I get the sense that at any moment two separate and distinct portals might open up in the middle of the white gallery wall: one to a Toontown and the other to a Forbidden Planet.
The exhibition, New California Sculpture, resonates tactilely as well as visually. The soft foam textures of Joey Enos’s sculptures beg to be poked and smooshed between fingertips, while Tamra Seal creates minimalist 3D echoes of 2D Technicolor worlds, echoes that evoke old-school movie special effects, staged lighting, and sci-fi props. The works of both artists flicker between the familiar and unfamiliar. Seal’s are radiant, graceful, and almost optimistic in their otherworldliness, while Enos’s pieces are inviting and enticing one second, slightly unnerving and uncanny the next.
Walking around Enos’s sculptures is like touring a defunct version of the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland. A freestanding hot pink sculpture is a nearly blinding sentry in front of a boarded up wall of neon green, which could be the entrance to a radioactive mineshaft. Smaller cornflower blue assemblages are displayed on a matching cornflower blue shelf, like a mantle full of trophies or prized tchotchkes. One of them, a wooden bat hanging on a stand, has vicious nails sticking out of its end like the weapon of some Warriors-esque street gang. It’s positioned to be easily grabbed and put to use (maybe I’ll test it out on the next visitor that stands too close to me). However, it’s only slightly more menacing than a sports fan’s oversized foam finger, or something Tom and Jerry would use to bop each other on the head in the mock violence and violent mockery of TV cartoons.
Enos’s works act as assemblage: smaller objects–here a small wooden bat, there a rubber tire–are pieced together like found objects to form larger mixed media sculptures. However, the raw material for these sculptures is uniformly polyurethane foam fabricated with faux textures, like wood and chicken leg (that’s a texture, right?), without concealing the pillowy nature of the foam material from which they are made. Coated with monochrome enamel paint, the pieces have a finish that a friend of mine aptly described as “store-bought birthday cake” with thick, glossy layers like icing and airbrushed highlights. The colors and textures lend the artworks their cartoonish appearance.
In contrast, Seal’s work is like a journey to an alien planet transmuted from the cinematic screen into a three-dimensional space, albeit in abstract ways. Light and color play a large role in her work, and together they form a phenomenological experience that is luminous. Seal’s acrylic tubes are not, scientifically-speaking, luminous in and of themselves; but, through the use of artificial and natural lighting, they glow as if the source of their own light. Accompanying the sculpture, the two-dimensional photographs are a careful cataloging of her light and color experiments with the three-dimensional tubes. Across the gallery space, twin moon rocks mirror one another, grounding Seal’s otherwise ethereal pieces with their solidity.
In Seal’s artist statement she describes how cinematic imagery like flying saucers and a childhood spent seeing things differently, i.e. blearily, have influenced her artwork:
“Being nearsighted since childhood, without glasses lights appear to me as overlapping simple-shaped colored orbs or bright crystals. I combine found objects of those shapes with my fabrications, turning each of them into a metaphorical character whose relationships with each other dramatize a minimalist narrative.”
The minimalist nature of her work acts as a distilling process that starts with cinema and, culling subject, object, and narrative, leave behind only shapes, colors, and light, feelings and impressions.
The title of the show, New California Sculpture, may be a bit hefty, and possibly implying that a comprehensive combing of the California art-scape was undertaken to find the newest and best contemporary artists working in sculpture. The move, however, is a strategic one. Ever Gold is positioning its exhibition and, thus, these two artists, on a trajectory that links the future of California sculpture style with past California sculptural traditions, specifically So. Cal’s finish fetish based in car and surf culture and the raw trashy aesthetic of the Bay Area’s Funk Movement. If Enos’s work is inspired by the bizarro boho detritus assemblages of the Funk Movement layered with a slick outer enamel coating of finish fetish, then Tamra Seal’s work is akin to the light and space artists of the 60’s and 70’s, such as Larry Bell and James Turrell. It’s a bold move for a two-person exhibition in a petite space, but an interesting one nonetheless. Thankfully, the work of these two artists is not flattened under the weight of the title’s bravado.