Culture and nature, reconciled.By DeWitt Cheng for the East Bay Express
The metaphysical poet Robert Herrick compared artists to amphibians, since they both live in dual realms, wet/dry and real/imagined. In recent years, art theorists diagnosed our schizophrenic condition as a split between nature and culture (no doubt due to Original Sin), and most artists found the new, exciting media frontier infinitely more fascinating than tired old nature, already done to death in more ways than one. Then things unraveled. Nowadays, socially engaged art practices are lauded, and even though 1930s-style social realism is still scorned, opining that art can be more than flippant nihilism no longer causes sighs and rolling eyes.
Gina Borg and Bryan de Roo are former Boston University classmates who are showing their paintings under the umbrella title, Temples of Transition, which some might construe as endorsing critic Suzi Gablik's goal of "re-enchanting" and re-sacralizing a fallen art world. Both construct fields of repeated (but varied) abstract marks that explore pattern, structure and growth; both create in order to explore process, but their paintings become metaphors for psychic integration — not exactly the Prime Directive of capitalist or postmodernist sophisticates.
Borg's nearly monochromatic paintings call for and foster a becalmed meditative state. Their carefully modulated tessellated brushstrokes suggest lustrous tapestries and embroidered brocades, subtly changing in texture and sheen, and natural structures like waves, tree bark, and field grasses — or scientific specimens, magnified. She describes her paintings as "process-driven experiments in color, light and the power of incremental change ... [created by] mutating the tones and temperatures of just a few colors ... the nuanced, physical remnants of ... slowing down ... perception." "Big Pink," "Floe," "White Mountain, "Berg," and "Balm" are minimalist nature paintings that ask the viewer to perceive change in the changeless, and vice versa.
While Borg's ethereal works seem to have been breathed into existence, de Roo's indeterminate structures suggest improvisation and evolution. Borg discerns "UFOs, architecture, crabs, robots and insects"; others might discover road maps, origami papers, botanical and biological slides, engineering diagrams, circuit charts, and plan views of archaeological sites. The ambiguity is deliberate: de Roos says he seeks "a pregnancy, a fecundity, like this could be so many things." What his twelve "Thought Bubble — Crystal Mesh" paintings depict is more elusive and abstract: how painting and thinking operate "by way of crystallization and interweaving." They're portraits of the creative process. Temples of Transition runs through June 19 at Gallery Extraña (2912 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley). 510-845-3645 X217 or Gallery-Extrana.com