There’s a lot to admire in the work of four artists exhibiting at Gallery Route One this month. In “To Dance Another Animal,” Isis Hockenos’s figures are active and funny: prancing, bowing, embracing. They are like figures glimpsed in movie stills, in high drama chiascuro. She says she was influenced by Max Beckman, the 1930s Expressionist, and her work may remind some of the Bay Area Figurative painting of the 1950s. But the painting is new and daring. The observing face in “The Procedure” is so brushy that she appears to wear a mask of strokes; the face is arresting and transmits the complexity of human psychology. In “Red Cheek,” the sky and rust-brown mountains of the background seem to say all the passionate things the couple in front of them cannot.
Throughout, the odd style mélange—from 1960s fashion advertising pen and ink to modernist figuration (Edvard Munch comes to mind) to postmodern comic riff (Matthew Barney’s sketchbook?)—leads to as unique and interesting a painting show as I have seen in recent years. The pieces were made during four months in Greece. (Hockenos is not Greek, nor is her name.) During her stay, she went to museums and absorbed mythology and Aesop’s fables; this can be seen in her “Venus and the Cat.” I think I see villagers and chores in there, too.
Hockenos is a fiction writer and has worked in the gourmet food business, perhaps influencing the sumptuousness and sensuality of her work. And the fiction writing may account for the drama of her figures, for whom action is not paramount and who are not painted for the study of nude. No, these are characters: clothed to partially clothed or costumed, well-behaved, behaving badly—or behaving wonderfully badly.
In the gallery’s tiny annex, “I’m with the Band” is Vickisa’s driven documentary of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the music tradition in San Francisco. She has created a series of drawings from its stages and artists for 14 years. Her renderings are simple, but the musicians’ faces very much resemble “specific someones,” all while appearing unstudied. The topic of a rock and roll tour and an adolescent view of idols is a nice match to her funky style.
Xander Weaver-Scull’s austere honoring of fish, birds, butterflies and snakes—near extinction and not—are transcendent in “Ebb and Flow.” They soar with melancholy, they confront with beauty and pattern. Xander uses stencil on washes, making series of monoprints. These materials, bespeaking process, are on view. The handcrafted inks are mostly or entirely made from natural pigments.
Making art that directly seeks to raise awareness of imperiled wildlife takes a strong heart. I am grateful for those like Xander who do it. On his website, he says the work allows him to be in the company of the animals’ “intricate majesty.” And although he is an artist-activist, he says he is “non-didactic,” merely creating a moment of reflection for viewers. Mission accomplished. The simple statement accompanying each piece tells whether the animal pictured is endangered or not. Having grown up in West Marin, Xander is channeling a spiritual strength both humans and animals need these days. As he says, the animals need us to speak up for them.
Last but not least at the gallery is a challenging photo/conceptual piece, “An Alternative to Martyrdom in Palestine,” by a young Palestinian woman, Aiyah Sibay. The exhibit fills the back room with black and white on white. It is brightly lit, and luxuriously empty. The enigmatic and confident photographs are elegant and need the space.
A young Palestinian plays a traditional flute in a series of photos, and the text explains the risks of protest in “occupied land.” There are no martyrs shown; rather, the exhibit sheds light on the day-to-day impact on friends and family, the poetic craving for a cup of coffee in a room one knows to be safe, and the postponed ambitions and dreams for the young people of Palestine. One needs to closely read the progress between images to make a narrative, if not to draw a conclusion.
“Isis Hockenos: To Dance Another Animal,” “Xander Weaver-Scull: Ebb and Flow,” “Aiyah Sibay, An Alternative to Martyrdom in Palestine” and “Vickisa: I’m With the Band” show at Gallery Route 1 in Point Reyes Station through Jan. 12. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday.
Emily Kuenstler is an artist, performer and writer who lives in Point Reyes Station.