UC Santa Cruz art exhibition to feature distinctive works by new faculty

The Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz will kick off the new year with Faculty Works: 2003, an exhibition featuring the distinctive work of three new members of the art faculty. This diverse show, running January 15 through February 15, will include contemporary photography, painting, and installation by Melissa Gwyn, Lewis Watts, and Elliot Anderson.

Melissa Gwyn employs an unusual approach in her paintings, which combine the thick paint of abstract expressionism with the delicate and intricate detail of Dutch 17th- century still lifes. She often begins by pouring puddles of paint onto wood panels and molding the paint with her fingers, scalpels, and tweezers. Eventually, in a labor-intensive process that calls for multiple layers of paint, organic shapes resembling flowers, fruit, and leaves begin to appear and multiply.

"In some of the paintings, the puddle forms do suggest imagery, much as Leonardo saw figures in clouds," Gwyn said. "It relates to 'decalcomania,' a surrealist game from the '40s where the aim was to find subject matter in chance forms."

Gwyn's oil-encrusted paintings often take years to dry. Artforum noted that her paintings "look like enlarged slides of microscopic organisms whose apparent simplicity is belied, under closer scrutiny, by their teeming busyness." In fact, Gwyn is heavily influenced by the molecular building blocks of science.

"Old science books used to be my models, but now I'm getting molecular models from the web," Gwyn noted. "All my science books are now in storage in New York, so I've gone from using children's science books to modern images of molecular structures."

Gwyn joined the UCSC Art Department in August after spending two years teaching painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She received two grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in 2000 and has been reviewed in the New York Times and the Village Voice. This will be her first exhibition at UCSC.

The photographs of Lewis Watts reflect traces of experience that people leave in the environment they occupy, revealing their culture and history. His work is in the permanent collections of the Oakland Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Neuberger Museum of Art in New York, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

"This is the first digital work I've shown," Watts noted. "It's a landscape show, although I don't consider myself a landscape photographer. I've been concentrating on African American people and environments."

Watts's photos are urban landscapes shot in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Richmond, California. He said his eye is drawn to certain objects in the environment and he then reacts aesthetically to them. Several of the photos feature tombstones and murals.

"I see tombstones and murals as ways that people mark their territory," Watts observed. "In one image, there is a coffee pot left by the tombstone. I thought that was interesting in that it reflected a cultural icon. I just responded to this object that comes from everyday life and I made assumptions about the person buried there."

Watts came to UCSC after teaching photography and visual studies at UC Berkeley for 25 years. He has also taught at UC Davis and worked as a photographer, archivist, and curator for such clients as Lucas Film Learning, the San Francisco Public Library, and KQED.

"I was trained as a social scientist and became an artist," Watts noted. "But my interest in history, culture, and identity really permeate my work."

The Sesnon exhibit will also feature an interactive video installation titled Don't Trip Over the Wire by Elliot Anderson, a lecturer at UCSC since 1997 who was recently appointed assistant professor in electronic media.

Wires will be strung across the floor of the gallery, which will contain three monitors containing looped videos of Anderson. Viewers will approach the monitors and be unable to avoid tripping the wires, which will trigger recorded voices of different language translations all warning "don't trip over the wire." The translations are all culled from online translators that ultimately distort the sentence as in the children's game of telephone.

"I wanted to make an interactive, theatrical, absurdist, obsessive piece," Anderson said. "I'm including the viewer in an absurd activity. The gallery floor will look like string art from the '60s. As people move, they will catch on the wires and it becomes a farce."

Anderson said the idea comes from the absurd logic of the computer.

"All my work is based on pathology and disease related to the computer," Anderson explained. "We rely on it so much, but it's repetitive, obsessive, and ultimately absurd. It's about how the computer structures our thinking--we're tangled up in it, but it doesn't translate into human emotion. It reduces life to data and numbers, and it paints an absurd picture of who you are."

Concurrently showing at the Porter College Faculty Gallery is Elizabeth Stephens's new interactive web-based art project, Wish You Were Here. Posing the question, "if someone were to take a road trip across the U.S., what would you have them do for you," she invites virtual travelers to make requests and records her journey on her web site: http//wishyouwerehere.ucsc.edu. An associate professor of art, Stephens has been teaching at UCSC since 1994.


An opening reception will be held on January 15 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The web site is: arts.ucsc.edu.