"Women Under the Influence" sounds like a show about alcoholics, but the influence these women are under is the seductive qualities of paint, a lush and sensuous medium.
The women included are Mary Warner, a nationally known artist originally from Sacramento who has taught for many years at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The others are her former students Wendy Kveck and Jane Callister, both university art professors themselves, Kveck at UNLV and Callister at UC Santa Barbara.
It's also a show about how artists influence each other. In this case, how Warner has influenced her former students and how their works relate to each other.
Warner is the old master of the group, her large-scale paintings of flowers overtaking the viewer with their sensuality. Warner's blooms seem to reach out and envelop the onlooker. These super-close-ups compel not only by virtue of their beauty, but also by their unrestrained presence.
Warner is perhaps best known for her paintings of oversized blooms on shaped black velvet canvases. Her new works are more subdued in a way, but no less demanding of our attention.
In "Wilt," she posits a large flower, drooping from the heat, against a backdrop of floral wallpaper that makes lilting arabesques across the surface of the canvas. The blossom, rendered meticulously, contrasts with the flat decorativeness of the background, making a poignant yet elegant contrast.
"White Bloom" offers a pair of radiant white dahlias, alive with subtle color against a backdrop of raw linen, their shadows silhouetted on the matte surface. Again there is the contrast between the three- and two-dimensional elements, setting up a visual tension that enlivens the painting.
More dramatic is "Bed Heads," an aggressive image of dying zinnias, petals curling as they dry up. The fiery blossoms seem to almost leap off the wall, they are so intense.
Much smaller and nearly garish in their coloration are Kveck's three-dimensional images of flowers and decorative motifs sculpted out of thick paint. "Contagious" is a feverish riot of flowers that look like they are made out of cake frosting. "Overgrown" is also a small bouquet that looks like cake icing. One can't help thinking of Wayne Thiebaud's luscious paintings of pastry with thick paint mimicking icing, but here the effect is somehow cloying, too sweet and gooey.
More subtle are Callister's "Reach" and "Mud Walk" with passages of atmospheric paint that hovers between abstraction and illusion. "Reach" has landscape implications with a foamy wave rising up under a Turner-esque sky. "Mud Walk" also speaks of earthy and ethereal contrasts, the two-dimensional painting accompanied by a mound of painted foam with a pair of old-fashioned shoes sitting under the painting projecting into real space. It's an interesting, if not entirely successful, experiment.
Warner, who has returned to Sacramento permanently after retiring from teaching at UNLV, is a gardener at heart, though her efforts were largely frustrated in the desert heat of Las Vegas. At 64, she has decided to settle into a new home near the Garden Highway, with the possibility of a rewarding garden.
"Sacramento is so lush, almost tropical compared to Las Vegas," she observed at the gallery. "I'm surrounded by all the trees and plants; you can smell the flowers in the air."
"My new home is a hideout, where I have one last chance to concentrate on my work. If I'd stayed in Las Vegas I would have been tempted to keep teaching." she said.
Though she has lived away from Sacramento since 1976, spending time in Montana, Oklahoma, Texas and New York before settling in Las Vegas in 1989, she has kept close ties with the city. She has family here, and fondly recalls growing up in Sacramento and going to local schools including Mira Loma High School, where her art teacher was Mel Ramos, who is having a 50-year retrospective at the Crocker.
Over the years she was gone, she continued to show her work in Sacramento at the Jennifer Pauls Gallery and Jay Jay, as well as at the Center for Contemporary Art. She feels a sense of connectedness and continuity despite her physical absence for so many years.
"I feel plugged into the community here," she said. "I can't wait to get to work. I have a big studio area in my garage and a living room with 8-by-8-foot skylights."
"I'm anxious to get to work, experimenting with new things. I want to play with the surface of my paintings more, maybe even do some passages of really thick paint, a 'piece' of paint. I'd also like to keep working with silhouettes, maybe with airbrush. I have lots of plans."
Women Under the Influence: Mary Warner, Wendy Kveck, Jane Callister
Where: Jay Jay, 5520 Elvas Ave.
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, through July 28 Cost: Free
Information: (916) 453-2999, www.jayjayart.com