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Magnetic Field: Gary Abkin's large-scale painting "Adolescent'" creates a troubling field of attraction and repulsion.



San Jose fixture reopens with member show

By Ann Elliott Sherman

EVEN WITH its new headquarters still a work-in-progress, the show goes on at WORKS/San José. The old brick flour mill on North Third Street features lofty ceilings and great natural light. Once the building inspector gives the go-ahead, visitors will find an airy expanse of walls and concrete slab flooring that, true to the WORKS ethos, can handle just about anything artists might want to try.

That includes easily accommodating the work of more than 100 members participating in the christening exhibition, Across the Tracks. Adroitly finessing a grab bag of style and content, the installation crew deserves credit for finding threads of commonality or complementarity between divergent pieces, grouping them to produce a sense of flow, instead of chaos.

That being said, certain works still stand out, either demanding or seducing attention. Surely in the first category is Gary Abkin's large-scale painting Adolescent. It's a coolly creepy bit of ravishment that creates a magnetic field of attraction and repulsion. Your gaze is drawn to the colors and composition of the canvas despite the flinch reflex induced by the sight of Freddy Krueger­like claws snatching at the egg-smooth girl of the title.

Economically graphic in every sense, Abkin's slightly angled point of view and flat expanses of color boldly outlined in black are slightly reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec, though the subject matter might just as easily conjure up the weary passivity of Bellocq's New Orleans prostitutes.

Lying back on her hands, the naked girl stares at or past the clothed groper. She is not exactly unhappy, but certainly not enjoying herself; emotional disassociation is her only apparent defense. Whatever narrative translation is chosen for the scene, the viewer/voyeur becomes uncomfortably complicitous in its matter-of-fact exposure of a decidedly unmutual sexual encounter.

Nearby, a charcoal-on-paper piece offers a rejoinder. Terry Acebo Davis subverts the phallocentric in Love and Two Eggs, an--ahem--allegorical drawing of a deep-sea fishing lure with a big, deadly hook flanked by two ovoids. Over easy, indeed.

Victoria May's sparingly hand-colored silver-gelatin still-life trios are surprisingly suspended within mitred frames by woven spans of dove-gray thread. In these explorations of contrasting forms and textures, May rests fanned feathers on granite, sets dried thistles or a coiled snakeskin against handmade rice paper, splits open bean pods or pomegranates.

Rather than nostalgically colorizing an entire photograph, May uses touches of tint only to heighten awareness--a few seeds here, a bean there. In one image, a leaf pinpricked into intricate lace work backlit with sun gets the barest wash of amber so that we might better appreciate its rusky fragility.

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Metro article about the history of the artist-owned gallery.

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PARADOXICALLY emphasizing the exquisite design inherent in nature by restricting our view of it, Jennifer Lyon encases a single feather in frosty acrylic. A magnifying lens supplies a Limited Vision of the lustrous black and electric blue chevrons formed by the barbs and barbules extending from the feather's shaft. Whether one is inclined to favor conceptual stimuli or to satisfy a childlike hunger for pretty delights, it's sure to prompt an "ooh."

Put a long "e" in front of that, and you've got the gut-level reaction to Gabriel Navar's mystifying post­X-Files fantasy de-puzzled and mesmerized. A picture puzzle within a picture that includes a couple of painted-in wood frames, the dominant motif involves various youths upchucking a glittering, glowing green goo into plastic pails by the light of the moon.

Despite an accompanying poem vaguely indicating that the substance is energy, there's just no getting around more commonly held, less romantic associations with teens and midnight barf buckets.

A bit of electronic gothic, Christine Laffer's Glove of Incapacity--Sensitivity Test turns a late-'60s-vintage stereo amplifier into a display case for a low-tech bionic glove of woven hemp. At the wrist and edges of the open fingertips that reveal bony "fingers" fashioned out of resistors, the threads become blood-red connections to the wiring.

Elizabeth Gomez gives her whimsical Still Life With Vegetarian Cats a bit of ballast by using a lacquered Byzantine palette, turning the image of tiny jungle cats flying on gossamer wings into a kind of religious icon. It is perceptively paired with Betty M. Turner's Bustier Angel, a small, stitched silk ribbon and embroidery floss drawing of a black, flower-bedecked Merry Widow provocatively edged along the bottom with gold skeleton keys. A cage within a cage, the garment hangs inside an open closet of iridescent blue barbed wire twined with flowers, a marriage of pain and beauty.

Still dealing out pleasure and provocation in good measure, WORKS classy new space hasn't tamed the gallery's soul.


Across the Tracks runs through April 26 at WORKS/San José. 30 N. Third St., San Jose (295-8378)

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From the April 24-30, 1997 issue of Metro

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