Sunday, December 03, 2006

Monica Canilao at Needles and Pens

Note: This exhibition will be on view through January 2007.

A comment I often hear about my constant forays into the local art world is, “You see everything!” It’s true that I see a good deal. This week, for example, I saw 8 exhibitions and made 2 studio visits. But I don’t see everything I’d like to, much less everything that’s going on.

In recent months I’ve been neglecting the exhibitions at Needles and Pens, a small zine and clothing store with a modest exhibition space and a long-standing art program. For example, I missed their latest exhibit by Mary Joy Scott, an artist whose interest in tattoo iconography and 19th-Century ladies, including criminal types, has produced some interesting results. Here is part of the wall painting she did for her show (image from the gallery website):

For its latest show, Needles and Pens features the work of Monica Canilao, a BFA graduate of CCA. (Actually, she refers to it as CCAC, in honor of its former name, California College of Arts and Crafts.) Although Canilao has participated in group shows that I’ve seen, this is the first time I've really focused on her. It is immediately clear that Canilao belongs to a particular lineage of Bay Area work. In terms of media, she is interested in found materials and collage. In terms of subjects, she presents figures, animal and human, that are transformed in mystical ways. Some of the symbology and the incorporation of fabric and thread give the work a shamanistic feel. All of this is familiar territory, and in another artist it might seem derivative. But Canilao manages to make each work personal and strange. The best pieces have remarkable presence despite their modest scale. There are many interesting details to linger over, and the compositions display great clarity while retaining a spontaneous feeling. Below are some examples of this cryptic but interesting work. In the first two pieces, the tan diamonds are unfolded manila envelopes.

A detail of the above work is shown at the top of the posting.

Canilao's version of a turkey:

A detail of the above work:

A black sheep (an inadequate photo that doesn't make clear the fabric elements of the composition):

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