Lauren Dare gets very excited when I ask if I can take her picture in front of her artwork. Dare joined Creative Growth Art Center in 2011, and this is the first time her stacked wall sculptures are being shown in the gallery. “40 Years: Departures” is second in a series of exhibitions marking the Oakland institution’s 40th anniversary. It follows on the heels of a rare two-person show of the gallery’s most acclaimed artists, Dan Miller and William Scott. “Departures” is more about the new than the known. Artworks by thirteen artists map not only the range of style and subject matter in the program but their makers’ individual development.
Monica Valentine creates bejeweled work she will never see. The blind artist works with sequins and pins separated by color to create spiky, geometric objects that are meant to be handled. I am surprised by the weight when Director Tom di Maria invites me to take Valentine’s sparkling orb from its perch. This “pick it up, try it out, why not?” mentality characterizes programming, teaching and practice at Creative Growth and breathes new, genuine life into an art scene that can get caught up in its own significance. Ron Veasey’s latest portraits on silk have a transparent, feathery quality that contrasts with the opaque acrylic in his paintings of two men in blue suits. His draftsmanship is no-nonsense and to the point and his mark making seems to begin with an end in mind.
Working on paper and in three dimensions, Barry Regan creates worlds of stacked geometries. He is there to greet me when I walk in the door. His abstract paintings are reminiscent of agricultural fields photographed from above or of pebbles lining a streambed. Colors are everywhere and everything. The window in his cabinet adorned with rough, closely packed pieces of wood reveals a dotted papier-mâché sculpture and painting by Maureen Clay. There is an aerial feeling to this work as well, as though all those wooden blocks might be tall buildings in a dense cityscape. Clay’s pieces focus on all that is micro, belying her ability to work on a much larger scale and looser style. The playful mixing of work by two artists speaks to a freedom to take risks specific to Creative Growth. Though artists’ disabilities may guide their practice, they do not define them.
Donald Mitchell’s paintings on canvas and Franna Lusson’s images of animals are standouts. Mitchell’s neon palette and use of canvas are new to his practice. Initially working in obsessive cross-hatching that obscured any recognizable subjects, the artist slowly revealed overlapping figures and a developed graphic sensibility. Filling the composition with their outstretched limbs and poker faces, Mitchell’s subjects are joined by letters and word fragments. Hovering at the minimal end of representation, Lusson’s oil stick pictures of dogs, cats and rabbits capture a truly animal attitude that beckons the viewer in. Muted tones, wonderfully spare compositions and a Diebenkorn-esque relationship to line define these creatures.
Founded in the early 1970s to work with a population just released from institutions into society, Creative Growth serves adult artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities. Emphasizing the therapeutic, stimulating and communal aspects of art making, the place is more than a simple studio or gallery. Black and white portraits of artists posing next to or interacting with their artwork line the upstairs hallway. The photographs remind visitors that the spirit of this place, which has seen its reach expand to New York and internationally in recent years under the guidance of di Maria, comes from its artists. “Departures” tracks this growth at the individual level, capturing individual development while indicating there is much more to come.
The exhibition runs through September 12. Stay tuned for the capstone event in the 40th anniversary bonanza; an exhibition curated by Matthew Higgs of White Columns, New York, and featuring work by 40 contemporary and CG artists, will open in April 2014.
For more information visit here.
-Contributed by Ariel Rosen