Kathleen King interviews M20 artist Peter Honig about his exhibition STILL

KK: What does the romance—if that’s the right word—of the American West Coast mean to you as a person born and raised on the East Coast?

PH: I grew up outside of Boston…and I would have to say that we didn’t think about California that much.  Representations of California from my youth would be television shows like the Beverly Hillbillies, maybe the Brady Bunch? As I got older pop music like the Doors and the Grateful Dead started creeping in, and the literary California of Steinbeck, the Beats, and Ken Kesey (or Tom Wolf’s version of Kesey).

Cars had eight track tapes and they were so big and funds were limited. We didn’t have that many …and one of them was the Eagle’s Hotel California, which made a huge impression. Hotel California was probably the most memorable vision I had of California. “We are all just prisoners here of our own device.”  The fact that it was not a boosterish anthem escaped me. I don’t think I realized it was a sad song until I had lived here about 10 years. After it was the theme song at our wedding…mixed in with NIN’s Head Like a Hole…

When you were younger, did these impressions draw you to this place?

I can’t say that I was particularly drawn to California, I just ended up here on a trip with a friend who was moving to LA to pursue acting. But I had been exposed to the work of Californian artists John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, and The New Topographic photographers, and in college had just read Rebecca Solnit’s Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era, so I was into the work of Wallace Berman. I had a vague notion that Duchamp had his first retrospective in Pasadena where he had infamously (and very frenchly) played topless chess with Eve, and that Warhol had also been first shown at the Ferus Gallery. That these luminaries had first gained acceptance here seemed important.

California was (and remains) an exciting locus for art, music and literary activity. But upon moving to Berkeley in 1991 I had trouble assimilating. My roommates kept babbling on about this geeky dial up message system. My neighbor had a start-up involving computers…it was really unclear to me what one would actually do with computers. One week in, the hills caught on fire and the sky went dark. I met my wife Sarah, who had just started her grad program at UCB. The following week Bill Graham’s helicopter crashed and there was a memorial concert in Golden Gate Park. The computer nerd next door took me there by motorcycle across the Bay Bridge and pulled us into a grove where the motorcycles were parked. We were surrounded by Hell’s Angels who had their tongues out to receive sacramental tabs of LSD. Things moved fast out here.

I lived on Oxford Street near Vine, and I had joined a temp agency in the city. One morning I got a call to report to an art gallery near Union Square. I was convinced that my resume, which had almost no job experience and no useful skills had, through some miracle, been chosen because of my art history degree. A chance for a breakthrough had presented itself.

I walked towards the BART station by going down Vine towards Shattuck. I would pass the original Peet’s Coffee. There was always this ragged crowd loitering around, relaxed and bearded. I was always rushing by, razor-burned. There I was off for my big break in the City, sweating through a cheap oxford shirt

I got into the city and went to the gallery. They handed me a sandwich board contraption with the Mona Lisa on one side with the face cut out. I put this thing onto my shoulders with my face sticking through and walked around outside for hours handing out coupons for discount framing. This went on for a few blissful weeks.

On my way home I would see the same folks still outside Peets. It occurred to me that this was an inverted order from Boston. There one derived their identity and prestige from how hard you labored and how serious you were…the Puritan work ethic. Here the status was conferred by how actively you resisted that ethic…and that means of self-definition.

California seemed like an interesting place with many different layers of reality…a web of sub-cultures.

Have your feelings changed about it after living here for three decades?

Well I don’t think that either coastal model of existence is superior. And having left Berkeley, I can see the argument that it is a privileged bubble. With time, much of the revolutionary gloss of technology has worn off. It was a gold rush. And business as usual.

Leaving Berkeley (for my wife’s job) has revealed a bigger, nuanced, less utopian reality. On one hand California is at the forefront of a class revolution. It is also a war zone.

I now live in a prosperous region — Santa Barbara.

“Such a lovely place,” like the Eagles sang.

That’s if you believe the realtors’ ad copy. But it is a fortress, an island built on capital. And that’s not a physical place, but a mental construct.

California is similar to Paris in that it is a screen on which people project images of themselves to be viewed by other people. It is a work of auto-fiction.

What it is to be Californian has been so well explored by Didion and Solnit, so much better than Kerouac, the Surf Industrial complex, and the PomWonderful lobby…

Poem “Where have we been?” wall text, installation view

The exhibit itself include two poems you’ve written. Is the writing of poetry a new art form for you, or have you been practicing it all along?

I have been writing on and off for all my life. But not well. I studied creative writing in college, but I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t ready to say anything. It was painful, but necessary, to come to the conclusion that while I could craft something, had turn of phrase, I wasn’t honest, and I didn’t know or respect my audience.

Writing for me is thinking. But not all thoughts are good, or should be in circulation.

The same goes for all the arts. There is a tension between the notion of “getting your work out there”/ “labor every day and go through the process” and basic economic principles of conservation of energy and resources. I try to free myself from ambition and self-definition through merely participating in a model of cultural production. But that’s not a task that is attainable.

It is, of course, internal contradictions like these that define us. They dominate our internal dialogue, vying for attention. For me the juggling of multiple realities and contradictions is the subject of my art.

This show “Still,” has you moving in a poetic–gentle, utopian, visionary–direction. The photos are intentionally unfocused and embedded in a layer of glossy resin. What are the artistic precedents that have inspired this work?  

This body of work has some qualities, that as you say, suggest something — gentle, utopian, visionary, poetic.

This is an effect crafted through composition, color harmony, scale, juxtaposition, surface. And its placement within the gallery, with a price tag affixed. Lodged in a system of critical discourse intersecting with a mean economy…in a really awkward way.

I am a story teller. I have a story. I am the author who presents this story, this vision. And while there is a character, who has my name, it is a work of fiction, a parable. They say identity is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves…and I am doing it right now. Certain people have a compulsion to communicate this facet of their identity dialogue. In doing so, I am creating a work of fiction whose details and whose aim are not necessarily sympathetic to the reader/ viewer’s expectation or agenda.

Honig

Table for Two, 24″ x 36″, archival pigment print encased in resin, 2020

How did you choose the images and iconography of the photos in “Still”?

The images in the show almost look like something you might put over the couch. If you had a different couch.  Or a different life. Or the artist was more likeable. Or you were told they were worth something by someone with cufflinks. Or the artist had a more cultivated resume, better teeth, a staff of six. Was not so verbose. Knew how to focus his camera.

What is the soft detachment of your work saying about Modernism and its heroic journeys as we hit the cold, hard reality of the year 2020?

It’s the chromatically elegant, soft focus story of an artist with poor eyesight, in his backyard, with his blurry wife, over an ill-defined kitchen sink, rhetorically asking “where have we been?” and answering his own questions – basically talking to himself, asserting something to the effect of “… thinking about stuff, feeling conflicted.”

I paint a picture of …of something less than reassuring.

OK, one more Eagles’ lyric, “What a nice surprise, bring your alibis.”

Well…the lies we tell ourselves…those are the best ones!

Yeah, life is less than reassuring, we can’t quite get behind the gloss, pull it in focus. Even at our best, in times of prosperity, in beautiful places, we remain a nervous system. My vision of paradise…is a sad song…with a beautiful chorus.

 


Barbara Morris reviews Accretion/Erosion

Charlie Milgrim presents Accretion/Erosion at Oakland’s Mercury 20 Gallery.

Milgrim, who references her longstanding body of installation work with a single, elegant tripod-mounted bowling ball, has in recent years begun exploring new media, particularly digital photography. Her beguiling images may suggest biological or chemical processes, but are in fact the result of digital manipulations of mundane photos, taken by the artist, of the residue of paint on a sink (accretion) or the abraded surface of an aging floor (erosion). Her keen eye and sharp wit combine to create a collection of images that draw the viewer into a mysterious realm, the ethereal accretions balanced by the earthier erosions. Through May 4.

— Barbara Morris


Stop by Mercury 20 Gallery for Slow Art Day!

Slow Art Day is a worldwide movement that you can experience at Mercury 20 Gallery on Saturday April 6, 2019 from 12-4pm. A gallery facilitator will help you slowly explore selected works from our two photo exhibitions, Peter Honig’s Wire Hum and Accretion/Erosion from Charlie Milgrim. Visitors will spend about 10 minutes looking, followed by a discussion about their discoveries. Find out what happens when you are invited to look slowly at the artwork.

Refreshments will be served. Free Admission.

Let us know you are coming. Email your RSVP to: mercurytwenty@gmail.com

Other Oakland Galleries participating in Slow Art Day:
– Ashara Ekundayo Gallery
– GearBox Gallery
– Gray Loft Gallery
– Warehouse 416


Ruth Tabancay at SJ Museum of Quilt & Textiles, Root Division, Shoh Gallery

Ruth Tabancay is exhibiting in 3 group exhibitions in the San Francisco Bay Area: at the International TECHstyle Biennial IV, San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, through April 14; Feast for Eyes, at Root Division, San Francisco, April 3-19; and Material of Form, Shoh Gallery, Berkeley, April 11-May 11


Julianne Sterling Semi-finalist for National Portrait Gallery Competition

Julianne Sterling’s painting “Specialist Murphy” has been selected from 2,675 entries from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico for the semifinalist round of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, 2019.


Elizabeth Sher at Codex VII and Kim Cole

Elizabeth Sher was selected to exhibit her artist books at the Codex Foundation’s 7th Biennial Book Fair, February, 2019, in Richmond, California. A solo show Spring Comes Every Year will be at Kim Cole, 222 Broadway St. #101, Oakland, though April 30th


Neo Serafimidis at Gray Loft Gallery and Element 79

Neo Serafimidis is showing “Blue Seville” (above) at Gray Loft Gallery, Oakland, in their annual photo show. Through March 23.

His photographs are featured at Element 79 Gallery, a public art exhibition space at Shattuck and Cedar Avenues, in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. Through March 9.


Leah Virsik at Marin MOCA, Feather River Art Camp

Leah Virsik is exhibiting in Marin MOCA’s 10th Annual Altered Book Exhibit and Fundraiser, April 27 – June 1, 2019, Opening Reception: April 27, 5-7pm, Live Auction and Closing Party: June 1, 5-8pm

Leah is teaching at Feather River Art Camp this June 9–16. Her class is titled Exploring Material and Metaphor in the Artist Book. Early registration discount ends March 9. Sign up at Feather River Art Camp


Mary Curtis Ratcliff at Berkeley Civic Center

Mary Curtis Ratcliff was selected for the Civic Center Art Exhibition 2019/2020, Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Building, Berkeley. Each year the City of Berkeley celebrates the richness of artistic production within the Berkeley community with the Civic Center Art Exhibition. This exhibition offers visitors to the Civic Center building an opportunity to see the diversity and richness of the visual arts being produced by artists of all ages and stages in their artistic careers who either live or work in Berkeley.


Sarah Lisch Inaugurates New Gallery in Berkeley

Mercury 20 artist Sara Lisch has inaugurated a new street-level art gallery, Element 79, at the corner of Shattuck and Cedar in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley, California. Sara noticed three unused display boxes on that well-traveled corner and visualized them being filled with exhibitions by local artists. After renovation, a new art venue was born!

Lisch says, “We hope to support artists, engage the public, spark curiosity, beautify the street and show some really cool art.”


Fernando Reyes at Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery

An exhibition of the work of Fernando Reyes opens in April at Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery in Lafayette, featuring new abstract handprinted paper cutouts on panel. Fernando creates one of a kind monoprints with interesting designs and patterns, cuts them and reconstructs them into colorful abstract works. Fernando will be showing with abstract collage artist Ray Beldner.  3620 Mt Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, California, April 11 – May 11, Artist reception April 11 6-8pm.

Fernando was also accepted into stARTup Art Fair San Francisco, April 26-28th.


Pantea Karimi at Minnesota Street Projects

Pantea Karimi’s installation, Folding Gardens, A Stained Memory (2017-2019) is included in the exhibition Once at Present, an exhibition of contemporary Iranian diaspora art from the Bay Area, on view March 29 – April 30 at the Minnesota Street Projects, San Francisco.

Curated by Kevin B. Chen and Taraneh Hemami
Reception: Saturday March 30: 6 – 9 pm


Johanna Poethig Performs with Chris Brown in Germany and Completes Mosaic Commission for City of Oakland

Johanna Poethig recently presented and performed with composer Chris Brown at the Atelier Siegele in Darmstadt, Germany. They showed their video “Music of the Lost Cities” and did an electronic music and performative reading of the High Stakes Divination Cards.

Johanna recently completed a 9′ x 65′ glass mosaic commissioned by the City of Oakland Public Art Program at Rainbow Recreation Center on International Blvd. which will be dedicated this spring.


Nick Dong at Chinese American Museum, Los Angeles

The work of Mercury 20 Taiwanese-American artist Nick Dong is featured in an exhibition at the Chinese American Museum Los Angeles: Lightscapes, Re-envisioning the Shanshuihua. Re-imagining the philosophies of Chinese landscape paintings, the exhibition brings forward new media works and immersive light-based installations that are not often explored within this genre. February 7 – November 10, 2019

Click here for a link to Voice of America News on YouTube, featuring an interview with Nick and a peek at the exhibition.


Ruth Tabancay at Richmond Art Center

Ruth Tabancay, as Northern California Representative for Surface Design Association, worked with the Richmond Art Center to help organize What Knot?, a juried fiber exhibition held September 11-November 20, 2018, at Richmond Art Center, Richmond, California. Open to all California artists, it was juried by Camille Ann Brewer, Curator at George Washington University and The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C. The exhibition was selected as a ‘Staff Pick’ by the East Bay Express. Photo of Ruth Tabancay with her work in the exhibition, Knit 322X and Purl 322X.


2018 an Eventful Year for Elizabeth Sher

2018 has been an eventful year so far for Elizabeth Sher, one of our newest gallery members. She had her first solo show Icelandscapes at Mercury 20 and also participated in our group show Melting Point. She was selected to show at the first stARTup Small Works Fair in San Francisco the last weekend of September. In the spring she had a solo show at M. Chapel Projects in Sarasota, Florida and was included in two juried group shows at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts in Sonoma County: Bibliophoria and Green. In February-March she was an artist in residence at Green Olive Arts in Morocco and had a screening with panel discussion of her film Rituals of Remembrance: Exploring the Art of Mourning co-produced with Magging Simpson Adams. Over Labor Day her latest short film Connie is screening at HamItUp in Sonoma County and will in included in the Oasis Film Festival in early 2019. You can follow Connie at “connie_the_film” on Instagram.


Jill McLennan creates “The Birds of Jingletown” public art project in Oakland

Jill McLennan watches Jingletown, her neighborhood of 14 years, transform into a community of development. McLennan has completed her first public art project with Madison Park Development Corp. in Jingletown at 401 Derby Ave. She designed 12 panels depicting birds flying over the Oakland and Jingletown skyline, framing the entryway with a 40’ visual screening above and the main doors, reviving the wetlands, below. Working directly with Claire Han of Madison Park, and the architect, Toby Levy, she partnered with DEKA Fabrications and GK Welding to fabricate the pieces.

McLennan’s concept for this piece is to emphasize the mixed use history of this neighborhood and to celebrate the balance that exists between residents, businesses and the natural environment. The industrial nature of the material, steel, reflects the steel industry that once dominated Jingletown. The skyline depicts vantage points throughout the neighborhood, both local details and familiar views of Oakland and Mt.Tam. The birds in flight and on wires are based on direct observation of the activities of birds living here, migrating through and filling our neighborhood with activity and song. The birds are also a metaphor for the people, coming and going, roosting and nesting, working independently and as a community to create a place to call home.

Jo Ann Biagini and KC Rosenberg participate in Gray Loft Gallery’s “Tangible Abstractions”

Tangible Abstractions
April 8 – May 20, 2017

Gray Loft Gallery presents Tangible Abstractions, a group show featuring the work of Jo Ann Biagini, Betsy Kellas, Mary Ann Leff, Javier Manrique, KC Rosenberg, Simone Simon and Tom White.

Artists’ opening reception: 2nd Friday, April 14, 6 – 9 pm
Closing Reception: Saturday, May 20, 4:00 – 6:30 pm

Fri., April 14, 6-9 p.m., Sat., April 15, 1-5 p.m., Sat., April 22, 1-5 p.m., Sat., April 29, 1-5 p.m., Sat., May 6, 1-5 p.m., Sat., May 13, 1-5 p.m. and Sat., May 20, 3-5:30 p.m.

Gray Loft Gallery
2889 Ford St., Oakland
510-499-3445
grayloftgallery@gmail.com
free and open to the public
www.grayloftgallery.com


AC Transit Cultural Corridor/ Urban Flow Public Art Project

Johanna Poethig’s  public project for AC Transit with team Mildred Howard, Peter Richards and Joyce Hsu is featured in their newsletter:

With construction now in full swing to build the East Bay’s first Bus Rapid Transit system, we thought now would be a great time to help you get a sense of the artwork that will grace the completed BRT stations. We believe the beauty of the artwork can be a sustaining image as you journey with us through the year-plus construction process.

Extensive input from the community helped create the artwork theme of “Cultural Corridor/Urban Flow.” All 34 stations will have windscreens as well as decorative handrails that flow into the station platform. Seven stations will have “artistically enhanced” windscreens. The honeycomb panels on the windscreens of the stations are reflective and will show the ever-changing movement (flow) of passengers, buses, lights and even the shifting sky above.

Johanna Poethig, Mildred Howard, Peter Richards and Joyce Hsu, artists for the BRT station artwork project, comment on their work:

“The BRT project, Cultural Corridor/Urban Flow, draws a ribbon winding through the neighborhoods like a creek, a metaphor for the flow of people, cultures, businesses, natural and urban environments along the corridor.  As transportation systems are inherently linear this unfolding visual poem complements this exciting new bus line.  What we were seeing and trying to capture is the diversity of the neighborhoods and the people. We who live in the East Bay know that what we are doing is broadening our love for the city to those passing by and those who live here.”

The diverse neighborhoods along the BRT corridor will be served by 34 stations. The artwork that connects all the stations is a visual poem of images and words that tells the many rich and history-filled stories of the diverse neighborhoods along the 9.5-mile BRT route. Downtown San Leandro, Elmhurst, Havenscourt-Lockwood, Fruitvale, San Antonio, Eastlake, Chinatown and Uptown/Downtown Oakland, are but a few of the neighborhoods along the BRT corridor.