Old and new technologies come together in many of Jeff Myers’ new oil paintings at Alex Bult Gallery.
Titled “The Secret Life of Machines,” the show ranges from small Wayne Thiebaud-like images of antiquated tractors set against creamy backgrounds made up of vertical brushstrokes to complex images such as “Texting the Initial Flight,” in which a Victorian airplane takes off over a field where youngsters text each other. It’s a wild painting seemingly in the “steam-punk” mode, though Myers’ says that is a coincidence.
Similarly imposing is “Catalina,” a painting of a pre-World War I reconnaissance aircraft that looms above a pair of tiny figures, one filming the plane with an antiquated movie camera. It’s a strong image that is overwhelming in the upward thrust of the composition.
In “Alfalfa Harvester,” Myers returns to compositional devices he has used in earlier paintings, offering a small cityscape below the quirky machine. But the disjuncture is less prominent now and like many of his new works, the composition seems more integrated and unified than in the past.
In “Old Duster,” he presents a crop duster surrounded by farm fields that splay out around it. The fields are reminiscent of Thiebaud’s Delta landscapes, as are the fields that ray out from his image of a Fauvist tractor, painted juicily in colors worthy of the “wild beasts” of the early 20th century.
Equally arresting is “Deep Water Channel,” a painting of a ship floating on layers of water that swirl and eddy below it and then segue to another cityscape. Myers gets some marvelously rich and subtle color into this and other of his new works and, using what he calls “a broken brush” technique, sets his images against thick backgrounds in vibrant color.
A few works seem to hint at new directions. “Future Apaches” is a painting of rusting and broken androids with American Indian chief feathered headdresses. “Old Droid with Cornfield” is another image of a falling-apart robotic figure over a row of small corn plants that function primarily as pattern. The use of machine men is an interesting way to reintroduce the figure into his work.
Also out of the loop is the compelling and mysterious “Stretched Roadways/Singer,” a strong image of a sewing machine making seams that resemble roads.
One of the most mysterious works in the show is “Mother Lodes,” a large painting in which an antiquated movie camera (actually, the camera Charlie Chaplin used in filming “The Gold Rush”) looms large against a mountainous landscape with passages suggesting strip mining. Like many of the works in the show, it brings together past and present, the momentary and eternal.
In contrast to Myers’ painterly visions, Ron Peetz, at Axis Gallery, dwells in the realm of conceptual, idea-based works, using wordplay, text-based pieces, double entendres, startling juxtapositions and humor to pique interest. While ideas are the basis here, Peetz is a marvelous and tasty craftsman who gives us a show that is both elegant and charming.
Dadaism is not dead in “The Critic’s Lament,” a bust of a faceless black creature made of wood and an altered violin case, nor does it languish in “The Crooner,” an unsettling piece made of a flattened metal bucket with a glass eye set into it.
“Mickey Mouse Club” is a baseball bat with mouse ears and a long pointed nose that makes Mickey ominous. “Shadow” is a sand-blasted glass with the words “of a doubt” etched into it, so that the words cast a shadow on the background, hence it is literally a “shadow of a doubt.”
A tall stack of Bibles on a base with metal wheels is “A Portable Lie Detector.” “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” is a headstone of sand-blasted granite, marked “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and cleaved by a sledgehammer.
At the center of the show is an X-ray of “The Slant Step” an enigmatic object that created a cult following 50 years ago and is tied to the history of the UC Davis art department. It still intrigues us with its indeterminate function and crude construction, here revealed inside out.
It should be noted that the Center for Contemporary Art, Sacramento will hold its annual art auction from 6- to 9 p.m. on Saturday at the Elliott Fouts Gallery, 1831 P St., Sacramento. The auction includes strong works by Boyd Gavin, Harry Parada, Linda Fitz Gibbon, Laureen Landau, Libby Harmor and Nancy Gotthart, among others. Admission is $10 at the door.