Friday, May 18, 2007

Texture tenure

Bob Gillis shows 20 years of work at the Art House Designs gallery in Olympia

Published in the Weekly Volcano May 17, 2007
Photo: Courtesy Photo"Three Horizons," acrylic and collage by Bob Gillis

Bob Gillis’ maturity is showing in his mini-retrospective, “Work After 70 Years,” at Art House Designs in Olympia. I’ve followed his progress over an almost 20-year period, and his latest works are the strongest yet.

Gillis has always done wonderful things with intricately textured surfaces. His earlier works were all about the surface with marks that simulated rocks, twigs and leaves, but with formal structures that were less interesting than the textural markings. In his latest works, the abstract forms — based on nature and in some cases on architectural motifs such as columns and cornices — are much more interesting.

Twenty-four large paintings fill the two gallery spaces at Art House. Although there are no dates indicated on the paintings, memory of earlier shows leads me to deduce that they are displayed in chronological order with the earlier works in the front room and the latest in the larger back room. (Note: The way the gallery is laid out it is not evident that there even is a back room. You have to pass through the frame shop to get to it.)

Most of the works in the front gallery have a floral motif. They are painted on wood panels. Flowers, leaves and twigs are strewn about in dense profusion on highly textured surfaces. The stark white flowers and leaves appear to be negative images over a ground that is mostly brown with touches of red. Gillis’ method is to lay leaves and twigs on the surface, paint over them, and then lift them away to leave the negative images. Obviously, it is more complicated than that. There’s a lot of painting back into the left-behind negative images. In some, there is a horizon line to create a natural landscape feel. Others are more abstract. The “ground” in them is a flat, rock-shaped form centered on the surface.

Typical of the floral-motif paintings, and one of the best of the lot, is “Rocky Wall Alive.” In this one, overlapping leaf shapes at the top create an almost empty white sky. On the ground below it are scattered white leaves, and below that are more densely spaced rocks and twigs. These paintings are highly decorative in a traditional manner. The paintings in the back room are also decorative, but more inventive and less traditional. They introduce figures, collage, and architectural elements, and they are far more elaborately designed. Another new feature that shows up in a lot of these newer works is what appears to be inlaid particle board. I could not tell from looking whether it is actual board cut into fancy patterns and inlaid or if it is simulated with paint. Either way, it makes for a fascinating textural element.

Two of my favorites are “One Perfect Heart” and “Streets of the Ennui.” “Heart” is an almost perfectly symmetrical design with an abstract figure in the middle that looks somewhat like a chess piece. The figure’s torso is a collaged page from The San Francisco Examiner with a red Valentine heart. The figure has two heads, both perfect circles. Background shapes reminiscent of columns and steps place it in a kind of abstracted Italian piazza. “Streets” is similarly symmetrical with a central figure, but this figure breaks the perfect symmetry by leaning slighting to one side. His feet point in one direction and his head in another, sort of like a figure in Egyptian paintings.

Another excellent painting, which stands out as different than all of the rest, is “Ballpoint Pen,” a painting done in — you guessed it — ball point pen and pencil featuring stacks of large rocks drawn with intricate cross-hatching on (again) what appears to be particle board.

This is a nice exhibition by an artist who knows his stuff. The paintings are labor intensive and beautifully jewel-like.

[Art House Designs, through June 9, Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 420B Franklin
St., Olympia, 360.943.3377.

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