Six major paintings and 10 small landscapes on paper, all in mixed media by Micaela Gardner, are on view through April 30 at Turn of the Century Fine Arts.
Their collective title, “AutoReflection” hints at the artist’s modesty in regarding herself as essentially an autodidact in painting, although she has received some formal instruction in visual and plastic arts.
It is worth noting, in addition, that the painter is also a dancer. Overall, this is an exhibition for viewers who respond to color, drama and lyricism.
Most of Gardner’s paintings would require major commitments of space by any collector: the smallest is 2 x 4 feet and the largest, 4 x 12 feet. Of greater significance, however, are the artist’s choices of palettes for the several works exhibited, her compositions and handling of her pigments, the referential contents evinced by forms and titles and the expressiveness on, beneath and beyond each surface.
Her consistent use of 2x4-foot Masonite panels, either vertically or horizontally juxtaposed, however, emphasize the works’ reassuring geometric configurations, so that even the most serendipitously lyrical and expansive works, such as Yellow and White Triptych (2 x 12 feet), conform to the artist’s intent.
These are serious works of art inviting hours of contemplation, not mere decoration. Matters of scale aside, they might not be easy for collectors to live with—unless they fall in love with them, which is the ideal relationship between collectors and works of art anyway.
Gardner’s color is voluptuous. The vertical diptych Chinese Screen, for example, pairs a plunging ochre form (possibly a fish) in a modulated green environment (possibly an ocean) on the left with a gorgeously, heavily impastoed red field on the right. A suggestion of mystery enhances the work’s seductiveness. The same may be said of UmberSea Sextet (two horizontal by three vertical rows of panels) and of The Hatchet (three horizontally stacked panels).
The latter is a tour de force of swirling earth tones whose abstract composition is rich with ambiguous suggestions of forms as well as space. Do we discern a hatchet across the top? Is that its handle, which looks like a noose? The beauty of the painting mitigates the ominousness of its title.
The Jellyfish That Stung Me In San Diego is also puzzling. The most reductive of the paintings in the exhibition, with respect to scale, composition and color, it is one horizontal panel (hence 2 x 4 feet) with two startlingly white forms, loosely resembling yin and yang in relationship to one another, on a bright red field. The work, despite its title, looks more sexy than scary.
Now in its 16th year of business, Turn of the Century Fine Arts, has been, along with a building that houses not-for-profits, including the Ecology Center and the Sierra Club, to the south on the same block, one of the anchors of a neighborhood in transition.
Commerce in bodies and drugs has receded as gift and garment boutiques have moved into what is becoming known as Berkeley’s “Left Bank,” that is, the west side of San Pablo Avenue as one moves north. (“Left” refers to political and social attitudes, as well as to style, or bohemian panache.)
Lewis Meyers, proprietor of Turn of the Century Fine Arts, first opened an exhibition space on the block in 1991 and saw it through various moves and metamorphoses, including a coffee and sandwich shop, along with art. Good Vibrations, a women-owned cooperative purveyor of merchandise that enhances erotic pleasure, is located nearby. Berkeley’s Caffè Trieste, whose model appeared in San Francisco’s North Beach on April 1, 1956, opened on the corner of Dwight Way and San Pablo Avenue last year under the aegis of Hal Braudel, Walter Wright and others.
Meyers, a master woodworker with an MFA in sculpture from the California College of the Arts, built its interior to harmonize with the character of its antecedent. Musical harmony characterizes Caffè Trieste for both its sound system (Caruso with breakfast!) and because most evenings there are performances by instrumentalists and vocalists. “Papa Gianni” (Giovanni Giotta), creator of the original Caffè Trieste, appears at least once monthly to sing Italian favorites. Sea Salt, an upscale seafood restaurant opened next door to Turn of the Century a few months ago and has quickly become a destination for diners from throughout the Bay Area.
Turn of the Century Fine Arts, Meyers says, is “my own brand of what I’m doing.” Huh? “Well, it’s kind of like a salon.”
The merchandise, in addition to works of art, ranges from kitsch and funk to high quality, handcrafted wood furniture—including chairs by Meyers himself. Meyers’s assemblages are also on view, as are lamps (some made from clarinets!) by Helen Holt. Visitors know that they’re in a good place with a statue of Ganesha greeting them at the door.
Turn of the Century Fine Arts is open Thursday through Sunday from 1-5 p.m. and by appointment. 2510 San Pablo Ave., 849-0950. The Micaela Gardner exhibition continues through Sunday, April 30, when there will be a closing reception honoring the artist from 2-6 p.m. All are welcome.
Photo: “The Hatchet,” one of the Micaela Gardner paintings in the exhibit at Turn of the Century gallery, is a tour de force of swirling earth tones.Ÿ