Maybe geography is destiny. At any rate, the natural world remains a touchstone for Humboldt State University artists: Natural places and their wild inhabitants figure repeatedly in HSU's new faculty and staff exhibition, which opens this week. Examples range from the inhabited landscapes in Dave Woody's fine-grained photographs to a tiny cormorant portrait by illustrator Brandice Guerra, to the discontinuous moments represented in Nicole Jean Hill's wildlife-rehabilitation triptych "Release."
This month HSU's faculty and staff exhibition packs works by 17 participating artists into the Reese Bullen Gallery. The 2018 renewal of the annual group show, curated this year by the students enrolled in the Museum and Gallery Practices class under the guidance of gallery director Brittany Sheldon and instructor Ian Carey, presented the organizers with the usual group-show challenge: a bunch of highly diverse artworks and no obvious narrative thread with which to connect them. Fortunately, Sheldon and Carey's perceptive exhibition hang imposes order on potential chaos. The exhibition organizers have juxtaposed artworks within this intimate space in such a way that common themes emerge.
Landscapes, nature studies and landscape-adjacent works akin to the three described above include Teresa Stanley's paintings, which open like windows onto light-filled, subdivided spaces that seem to unfurl beneath the viewer's eye, as if seen from the air. Gina Tuzzi's fluent painting after Joni Mitchell's For the Roses album cover brings a new pop celebrity into the artist's rapidly diversifying canon, channeling a scenic river landscape set apart by two or three degrees of icon worship. Two sculptures by Benjamin Funke (this writer's husband) use what appear to be heavy metal armatures to back up rippling shapes cut from plywood so their depthless contours resemble drawings in space. Functional tripod legs plant these pieces firmly in the studio, lending them a portable, provisional air; above the industrial supports, colorful bubble-shaped portals frame the view.
While digital media have not been extensively represented in the HSU art curriculum to date, that doesn't mean screens and the flat, seductive images they purvey are out of view. Sarah Whorf's series of hand-colored polyester lithographs, collectively titled "Viewports," take one of the visual conventions of screen media as their starting point. Each print in the series presents a detailed cartouche-like emblem that somewhat resembles an icon for a hypothetical app. Neither prototypes for screens, nor exactly parodies, the prints fall somewhere in between.
Across the way, blocky ceramic reliefs by Nancy Frazier are arranged in a grid on the wall. Each bears a singular array of tubes and prongs sprouting from a central socket. They look like stock couplings from an otherworldly hardware store. Glossy red and white surfaces suggest the body's interior but the subjects have multiple meanings: The way the reliefs are positioned, midway up the gallery wall, means their outlets resemble coaxial cables or dongles more than arteries. Either way, the connection being represented is a visceral one.
Speaking more literally of viscera, Sondra Schwetman's installation "Axis" features a headless, armless cast of a woman's body lying supine, with a thick cable of colorful flags being drawn out from her abdomen and up to the ceiling.
New materials and technologies make their presence felt in several pieces, notably jeweler Emily Cobb's "Albino Tangerine, Red Milk, and Western Milk," an arrangement of necklaces made from brightly colored beads Cobb fabricated from nylon and polyester blanks, using a 3-D printer. Alternating bands of red, black and white make these strands look deceptively timeless — even though in terms of materials, they are pushing the technological envelope.
Humboldt State University's Faculty and Staff Exhibition will be at the HSU Reese Bullen Gallery from Sept. 13 - Oct. 12. There will be a reception and artists' talks on Thursday, Sept. 13 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Contact the gallery at 826-5814 or email@example.com.
Gabrielle Gopinath is an art writer, critic and curator based in Arcata.