Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Chan Chao Profiled in Photo-Eye
photo eye
Denise Wolff has a terrific discussion and interview with Chan Chao in the current issue of Photo-Eye.

Wolff discusses Chao's recent show at Numark Gallery, and almost right away makes an important point in placing Chao's elegant nudes within the always odd context of nudity in Washington, DC; Wolff goes as far as to describe Washington as a "town generally squeamish with nudity."

nude by chan chaoAnd (in my opinion) made even worse by a WaPo critic who is also "squeamish with nudity."

Among Wolff's many interesting questions to Chao (which revealed a few somewhat surprising facts - at least to me), I found this one particularly telling:

DW: As I looked at this work, I made a mental list of words that came to mind about the images. But I noticed later that my list didn't include the word erotic. Do you intend these photos to be erotic?

CC: No. I did not want these images to be erotic. I think it's too easy to create erotic photos. However, since they are nudes, the undertone is always there. And so even though I don't intend for them to be erotic, I do want to create some tension with it, or maybe even discomfort...
This is important, because I think that what makes Chao's display of the female nude stand out hinges on his ability to achieve precisely what Wolff identifies with this question: An ability to take an inherently sensual subject, present it in a manner that doesn't shout erotica, but retains a certain, unavoidable scent of eroticism; it can't be helped.

The first time that I saw these photos at Numark, I did not see them as erotic at all. And yet, a second visit to them left behind a slight footprint of eroticism in my mind; perhaps the direct gaze of the women - who knows? It's not important as to "why" but that it happened.

This Photo-Eye piece by Wolff leaves us watering at the mouth for more pieces (on national level magazines such as this one is) about some of our area artists; it a great start with one of our own art stars... but more please!

Bravo Wolff!

Olive Ayhens at Watkins Gallery

By John Anderson

Olive Ayhens was born in Oakland and studied at the San Francisco Art Institute during the tenure of Richard Diebenkorn, shortly after the reign of Rothko and Still influenced the department with their teachings of Abstract Expressionism. "I know abstraction well," she mentioned. "It’s all throughout my background."

Despite not using it directly in her work, she is aware that it has influenced her sense of plain, space and color. She recalled the climate of that period. "Berkley wasn’t hiring women at the time... until the Women’s Movement. When I was emerging I was in a lot of women shows." She pointed out how neither then nor now would one find a show entitled Eight Male Artists.

The sexism in the art world wasn't the only hurdle to overcome. Early in her career Ayhens also faced the challenge of racing two children as a single mother. Through various artist-in-residency positions throughout the Bay Area, other parts of California, Utah, Montana and Texas, Ayhens was able to manage artistic and familial obligations. Altering her medium to watercolor when her children were in their infancy forced Ayhens to approach her technique differently.

"I approached watercolor like an oil painter, moving the paint around opaquely. Eventually my technique loosened up." As a result, upon returning to oils, the paintings developed like watercolors, vibrant and juicy, nearly acidic in areas. Layers were constructed through thin washes in places, with thick impastos appearing intermitently. "I just love the paint, like my abstract teachers did. They reached me on that, and I hope that shows. They wanted me to give up my images as a young girl, and just move the paint around. But the images take me places."

In her current exhibition at Watkins Gallery, that place is New York City. "I’ve been in New York for nine years and I haven’t finished my work there." With both children attending college, Ayhens made the move to New York in 1996 after receiving the Marie Walsh Sharpe studio space grant - which afforded her a studio in Manhattan. Though she didn’t think she would stay in New York beyond that grant, she began experiencing modest successes, showing in galleries and having her work appear in Time Out and the New York Times. This was followed in successive years by a Gotlieb, her first Pollock/Krasner, and the World Views Residency through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council on the 91st floor of the Trade Towers in 1999.