By Ed Goldman
The good news is that you still have almost three weeks to catch Boyd Gavin’s current show at the John Natsoulas Gallery. The bad news is that it’s not going to be up and continually replenished year-round.
The Natsoulas Gallery is in Davis (suggested motto: “The Land That Time Forgot”—doesn’t it know it’s supposed to have more crime and homelessness to be considered urban?). It’s a magnificent “space,” as gallerygoers like to say: a roomy multi-story house you come upon just as you steer your back-to-the-future DeLorean or time-traveling derailer into the town.
And while you’re already tiring of my past-‘n’-present gags, they may be slightly appropriate, given Gavin: His efforts comprise timeless artistry. His new show celebrates a slice of regional Americana—specifically, West Sacramento and its retro vibe of neon signage, no-tell hotels and motels, cardrooms, pools and even patio furniture. It’s as though David Hockney had never received the proper budget to paint and repaint Belair, Brentwood and Beverly Hills and instead went on an econo road trip to the city across the Sacramento River with the similar name but in a different county.
An all-too-common critic’s adjective is saying an artist’s work is “painterly,” which is a little like saying a writer’s work is writerly, a gourmet’s work is cheferly and a composer’s magnum opus is tunerly. Even so, “painterly” ain’t a bad word to describe Gavin’s authoritative stroke work, color palette and light sourcing. While flirting with photo realism, his paintings are still best viewed from a slight distance, where the efforts you can parse when you’re up-close and personal come magically together as a whole from just a few feet back.
I admit I have no favorite works in this show; I’d be happy with any or all of them filling the walls of my condo loft. The paintings convey both the heat of Sacramento summers and the transitory nature of affordable lodgings. Gavin seems to be a fan of forced perspective, which simply means he knows what he wants you to look at in his paintings and by use of scaling an object down or up, directs your attention to where he wants it.
If that sounds like he’s manipulative, well, he is—in the best possible way. He uses composition and a warm but sometimes deliberately non-vibrant range of colors to offer sly (but never condescending) visual editorials to comment on a particular commercial strata of American life.
I mentioned David Hockney earlier and would put in a reference or two about Cezanne’s brushwork but ultimately, Gavin himself says it best in his notes for the show. “I am drawn to the quirky short-hand style of artists like Fairfield Porter or David Park,” he writes, “artists who seem to invest even the homeliest of subjects with an offhand grandeur.”
We ought to add a word or two about the John Natsoulas Gallery (which now has a satellite exhibit space in Oakland at 519 17th Street at Telegraph). This continues to be simply the most expansive, stylish, enormous artspace in the region, a multi-story house populated with art on every floor and in every stairwell, including a rooftop garden of sculpture and audience seating.
The Natsoulas Gallery is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.,, Fridays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Gavin’s show closes July 23. I strongly recommend you take it in—and let his work take you into a recognizable realm of Northern California life.