KAN, the group exhibition at Durden and Ray, is a subtle, poetic show that shines with both its intent and its artwork. Curated by Sijia Chen and Lydia Michelle Espinoza, the show features the work of Chen and artists Carl Berg, Gul Cagin, Hai-Biao Cai, Huang Cheng, Roni Feldman, Ed Gomez, Jenny Hager, Ruowan Li, Ty Pownall, and Zhengsai Xie.
Primarily abstract work, with some figurative pieces, KÀN in Chinese translates as “to look,” and that is what each piece encourages us to do remarkably well here. Viewers are invited to observe captured moments, to take-in even the most minute or quiet details with intention and purpose. Each piece in the exhibition is quietly contemplative. Regardless of mediums — which are varied — the works encourage the viewer to turn inward, to go beyond the casual glance and truly study a piece. Many, though by no means all, of these works have subdued palettes, in most cases the palettes chosen by the artist fall into a specific series of shades.
If contemplation of these art works is key to enjoying and understanding the exhibition, so too is the act of contemplation on a broader scale, that of considering, engaging with, and connecting to life itself.
These are carefully observed pieces, works that transcend any cultural differences between the mix of Chinese artists and Los Angeles-based artists who comprise the show. Chen notes that the pairing both complements and contrasts each other’s work in content and style. One of the more interesting qualities of this well-curated exhibition is the fact that there’s a seamlessness to it. Viewers cannot gaze around the room and separate the artists by nationality; rather the show flows in a peaceful, even Zen-like way. Exhibition notes state that the exhibition is dedicated to exploring a unique and intimate perspective, and so it does.
Curator and LA-based artist Sijia Chen’s work, Time, created in ink, pencil, and acrylic on mylar on panels, is a beautifully evocative piece. Lines, dots, hash marks – she has created both an inchoate language and a way of marking time, of shaping and recording it. There is a hushed quality to the piece, as if viewers were invited to hold their breath and consider the hours, days, minutes – how we pass and mark our own time. There is an otherworldly quality to the piece, as if it existed outside of known places, spaces, and yes, time as we know it.
Far more familiar is Chinese artist Ruowan Li’s lovely My House, a simple and peaceful living room with sofa, cushions, coffee table, and art on the walls. It is a room anyone would want to look inside and once having seen it, stay. The overall muted colors of beige, brown, grey and white are punctuated by a golden pillow, small tufts of golden flowers, a green plant, and a pillow with a red and black design. This is a room in which to rest and relax, it is an invitation to join the artist in this pretty perfect place. The artist has written his initials and the date fairly prominently in the work, whether intentional or not, this recalls a time/date stamp on a photograph.
Ty Pownall, a member of the Durden and Ray collective, has a work here which could never be mistaken for a photograph. His untitled floor sculpture of loose sand, dry pigment, and steel is an elongated shape with a painted tear-drop white shape and a hole in the middle (see slideshow below). As viewers, we want to know what is inside that hole, and what we should place in it. It’s a stylized repository.
Flowers explode like pastel fireworks in Roni Feldman’s Occlusion (slideshow), an acrylic and collage work that is both floral and more elliptically patterned. Shapes that could be stars or compasses float from the center of the canvas, and the image looks like a beautiful but disruptive force is announcing its arrival. Such is the nature of art, or a meteorological shift or a closing of a blood vessel, depending on one’s take on the title of the piece. Ed Gomez’ vivid red-hued acrylic work Sacred Geometry 2 & 3 is a kaleidoscopic work, a more mannered and careful approach to some vast sea-change, perhaps an entirely internal shift.
Jenny Hager’s large scale Mena (slideshow) is mysterious, a painting in which a strange figure appears to be passing through a pink pyramid of light, while other vivid geometric and abstract shapes shift. We may be looking at the unfolding of thoughts, or the portal to another dimension.
Chinese artist Hai-Biao Cai offers a delicate, haunting piece, The Lifeguard. One of the most figurative pieces in the exhibition, two male figures appear to be underwater, both fondling the breasts of a female figure, also underwater. As if swimming up from this undefined situation, a series of Chinese characters takes up a wide portion of the painting, which is created on rice paper. We cannot understand what is happening in an empirical sense, yet we feel a strong desire to figure out the situation. Is the woman enjoying a menage a trois? Is she being attacked? Is she being rescued? We can study the image and never completely decide – much of life, the artist may be saying, depends on our interpretation of seemingly random events.
Durden and Ray’s Gul Cagin has three pieces in this show, each with a color palette of rust, yellow, and black. Her acrylic on canvas Splitmoulded Doubter (slideshow) is almost hieroglyphic in form, the image of a woman or man, body split, carrying what could be a torch. As with all of Cagin’s work here, there is a sense of connectedness, to a past we all may share and a future we haven’t quite formed yet.
Each of the works in this exhibition require both time and thought to really “look” and understand them. But the pure pleasure of the art is such that understanding may not really be necessary in the end, and simply taking in the fascinating view may do.
Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist, journalist, and produced screen and television writer based in Los Angeles. Publisher and writer of www.diversionsLA.com, she also writes for a wide range of magazines and newspapers.