Nathan Vonk: 

From the Great Wild Open at MCASB

Exciting Work at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Santa Barbara Independent

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Out of the Great Wide Open, exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara

an excerpt of full article

The importance of the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara (MCASB) is in full display in their new exhibition Out of the Great Wide Open, which opened to a packed house of excited art lovers last week. There is a certain amount of responsibility that comes from the fact that the MCASB is the only museum dedicated solely to contemporary art located between Los Angeles and San Francisco. As such, the current show of work from artists residing in the tri-county region between these two art meccas fulfills a need that few other venues are positioned to take on in any sustained way. It is a testament to the MCA that the artwork in this exhibition is just as diverse, innovative, and challenging as work you might find in either of these neighboring, much larger cities.


Each of the four painters featured in the exhibition work with a certain degree of abstraction, but that is where the similarities stop. Seyburn Zorthian’s paintings emphasize the action of their creation, and titles like “Orchid Beat” and “Half Time Feel” suggest a musical dance that is documented in each piece. The large wall painting “No Sinking New Ships” by Cathy Ellis is a humorous juxtaposition of idyllic scenery and surreal post-apocalyptic disaster; while the brightly colored abstractions by Nick Wilkinson create a wonderful confusion of depth that are at times reminiscent of the 3D Magic Eye posters from the 1990s.

Perhaps the strongest showing of work in this exhibition comes from Erik ReeL. His flavor of abstract painting harks back to Paul Klee, Cy Twombly, and Mark Tobey; but his mark-making technique also brings to mind California’s post-surrealist Dynaton movement of the late ’40s and early ’50s. However, it is the surface of the six acrylic paintings on paper that demands attention. At first glance the paintings seem ultra-flat, as though produced by some sort of printed technique. However, upon extremely close inspection, innumerable layers become evident, where brushstrokes have produced microscopic valleys and canyons into which the powdery pigment bleeds from ReeL’s personal hieroglyphs. Step away from the piece, and a similarly profound macro level of depth becomes evident, as these marks float at various altitudes above a background that seems infinitely far away. These six pieces and the two large canvases that accompany them are reason enough to go to see what is in total an intriguing and thoroughly enjoyable exhibition.

copyright 2015 Santa Barbara Independent and Nathan Vonk. Reformatted for display on this website.