Jess and Lawrence Jordan opening at Mythos Fine Art and Artifacts
On Friday I had the pleasure of attending my first West Coast art opening at Mythos, a gallery in North Berkeley. The exhibition shows an intimate selection of works by two Bay Area collage and film artists of the Beat Generation: Lawrence Jordan and Jess Collins (“Jess”); the works are sometimes so dense with juxtaposing imagery that one appreciates the limited number of pieces, allowing you to pay adequate attention to each. The first word I would choose to describe the show as a whole would be beautiful. The second…odd; or perhaps more accurately, surreal. Third…hilarious. Take this example:
That professor’s got a (at least) half-naked man sticking out of his backside. Something up his ass. A bit obvious, but it tickled me.
A slightly more obtuse example:
Look at those happy bikers! Tackling the terrain, feeling the breeze…nevermind the Jurassic reptile knocking down windmills as it hobbles towards them.
That nonsensical, fantastical, dreamlike scenario characterizes the static and animated works of Jess and Lawrence Jordan. Both utilize elements of Dada and Surrealism to arrive somewhere new–somewhere not as violent as the collages of Max Ernst or Raoul Hausmann, which attacked rationality and icons of old culture, yet not as directly aimed at liberating and distilling the unconscious mind as Surrealism. They draw on the Dadaist use of ready-made images and text and the mysterious and mystical aims of Surrealism to achieve related but divergent aims.
Jess began his art career following his time in the military, during which he contributed to the Manhattan Project and development of the bomb. His subsequent pessimism about nuclear warfare heavily informs his works. The tone of his collages ranges from satirical to evoking a fear of impending doom. Yet he somehow manifests these ideas through beautiful imagery. His collages, known as “paste ups,” contain so many visual stimuli that you can’t help but be drawn in:
The pieces are complex, but even in paste ups as involved as the above, Jess maintains a balanced field of light and shadow that seems to continue beyond the frame. Once you step into one, your eye trails around each element, grappling for some trace of narrative, but it never quite gets there. They leave you wanting more.
That tantalizing tease of a rational explanation is a strong tie between Jess and Jordan; but where Jess’s pieces hint at a hopeless fate, Jordan’s hint at…well…nothing.
Sure, there are references to nature and classical art and architecture, but he leads the rational mind on and then leaves it hanging. Narrative is not really the point; he explores imagery as form: flat in collage, three-dimensional in his boxes, and animated in his films. The show’s curator, Christopher Wagstaff, demonstrates this nicely in the back corner of the gallery by showing all three forms together:
The film shows the central female figure flipping through different poses against a static backdrop and a caustic, almost mechanical soundtrack. I found it pleasantly disturbing, which could be said for the show as a whole.
My favorite piece was this one, for the various possible interpretations of the main line, “For you who like a hearty whisk.” I’m not sure Jess intended the culinary humor that I like about it (because I certainly DO like a hearty whisk), but perhaps that’s the point: you make your own sense of it.
On the search for more art to consume,