Though they are worlds apart, two shows at midtown galleries share a common thread.
Ken Waterstreet's labor- intensive, photorealistic paintings and colored-pencil drawings at Alex Bult Gallery are the result of many hours the artist spent standing in rivers and streams in remote and beautiful places. Gong Yuebin's quick, spontaneous drawings at b. sakata garo record sights the artist saw during four months along China's Yellow River.
Waterstreet's works are almost hallucinatory in their intensity. Walking the line between abstraction and realism, he gives us images that hover between the two modes, looking abstract close-up but falling into realistic images as you move away from them.
Waterstreet writes that he sees water as a metaphor for life, a substance both moving and mysterious. His complex renditions of water are meditative and transcendent. The hypnotic undulations of water running over stream beds simultaneously conveys surface and depth in "Lower American River II," in which leaves float on the surface while eddies whirl in the cool blue depths of the water.
"Gerle Creek II" is disorienting when viewed up close, a busy abstraction of writhing tones of reddish-brown and blue that falls into an image of a stream bed as you move away from it.
There is an almost surreal quality to "Hidden Creek" as you look down into rippling water at what could be stones or fish. It reminds me of Pavel Tchelitchew's riddling painting "Hide-and-Seek." "Close to Home" gives us a look at big stones seen through reflections of sunlight on water. "Lyle Creek" might be an image of wrinkled fabric.
"Pleasant Valley Creek" is an in-your-face image of life bubbling up into cloudlike forms that have a cosmic feeling. "Upper Sac" gives us a deeper river with big waves of water that could carry you away. It's a powerful painting.
An internationally recognized photorealist and an influential member of the Sacramento art community, Waterstreet is retired from many years at Mira Loma High School. While he is known better, perhaps, for his witty paintings of old masters intruded upon by a figure from a child's drawing, he has been working on this series of waterscapes for 10 years a fruitful field of endeavor for him.
Gong is best known for his large-scale installations, among them "Site 2801," an army of ancient Chinese warriors made of clay expanding on China's famous terra cotta warriors. But the works in "Along the Yellow River" are intimate in scale.
Having broken his fragile health through a series of massive installations, he was advised by his doctor to stop doing such heavy and elaborate projects. Because he had always wanted to travel the length of the Yellow River, the China-born artist set out on a 5,400-kilometer trip from Tibet to Tai Chi (Wu Dang) mountain. Along the way he worked only with ink and brushes to chronicle his trip.
The results are a series of absolutely charming drawings of farmers with camels and oxen, the original terra cotta warriors in situ, scenes from Han dynasty art works, Taoist palaces and figures doing tai chi.
"Sunset of Life" is a gestural brush drawing of two old men seen from the back that conveys their weighty volume and their tiredness. "Tai Chi Walk #19" is a spare drawing, not all there yet marvelously complete. "Tai Chi Walk #14" is a small miracle of economic brushstrokes that fall into a convincingly real figure in motion. "Tai Chi Walk #7" is a surreal, Picasso-esque image. Each is a treasure.
A series of drawings depicts objects and images from the Han Dynasty, among them a war cart and a scene of hunters. There are fascinating images of Potala Palace, winter abode of the Dalai Lama, and other landmarks as well as people, including a portrait of Mr. Yang, who discovered the site of the terra cotta warriors.
More than a mere travelogue, these drawings are a testament to Gong's skills as a brush painter and his connection to traditional Chinese art with modern twists.
Ken Waterstreet: Waterworks
Where: Alex Bult Gallery, 1114 21st St., Suite B, Sacramento
When: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday through April 6
Information: (916) 476-5540
Gong Yuebin: Along the Yellow River
Where: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St., Sacramento
When:Noon-6 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday through March 30
Information: (916) 447-4276