You wouldn’t think paintings of cars and trucks on congested freeways would be interesting or dynamic or funny or even beautiful but all those adjectives apply to the exciting works in Ryan M. Reynolds’ “Freeway Series” at b. sakata garo.
Certainly the subject has been dealt with before by Wayne Thiebaud, whose paintings of cars backed up and inching along at rush hour or speeding on dizzying cloverleaf interchanges veer from a kind of slap-stick comedy to menacing parables of monotonous modern life.
But clearly, this phenomenon, which most of us deal with on a daily basis, is a theme that has not been exhausted (no pun intended) and offers other possibilities to a painter as strong as Reynolds. His rich oils and bold watercolors that range from a kind of painterly realism to near abstraction, reflect the tradition of Bay Area Figuration as practiced by Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and David Park and extend it into fresh territory that is his own.
“Freeway #4,” the strongest work in the series, is a bold, muscular, virile image of cars and a truck seen from the rear rendered with speedy brushstrokes that veer toward gutsy abstraction. It’s a gritty image of cars whose dark red taillights smear and seem to bleed as if they were seen on a wet road on a rainy day. Yet there are flashes of brilliant color – gold, turquoise, copper, green, white – that turn the scene into a thing of beauty and vivacity.
“Freeway #8” is a a large grisaille (monochromatic) watercolor ranging from heavy dark grays at the top to pale luminous grays and unpainted white paper at the bottom. It’s a dashing painting that demonstrate’s Reynolds’ mastery of a difficult medium sometimes (mistakenly) associated with pleasing subjects and delicate colors.
Returning to oils in “Freeway #5,” he gives us a large painting so immediate it sucks you in to its warm grays and touches of fleshy pink-ochre. At a distance, it’s an almost elegant abstraction at odds with its in-your-face effect when seen up close.
It contrasts nicely with “Freeway #6,” a brightly colored urban landscape with high rises in the distance, warehouses and big box structures on the side, green freeway signs, and blocky cars. Using bold horizontal strokes and geometry worthy of Diebenkorn, it has a strong sense of space and gravity.
Moving to a more delicate palette – pastel pink and yellow, jewel-like red and green – and a more abstract stance in “Freeway #12,” he builds a fascinating image made up of long horizontal rectangles flanking a cluster of small mosaic-like brushstrokes in the center that makes you think of an earthier, richer Mondrian. Similar in feeling is the small oil, “Freeway #3,” with thick mosaic-like markings that form an abstract image suggesting a chaotic sense of heavy traffic jammed up on a highway.
“Freeway #11” departs into a new motif of big, diagonal overpasses flying off into the sky over a warm, pale gray road with a blue SUV and a white panel truck in the foreground. An oil truck made up of minimal brushstrokes speeds along the upper overpass, while the tops of small cars peek up above the concrete sides of a lower overpass.
Even more exciting and kind of wacky is “Freeway #13,” a scene of chaotic overpasses and offramps that suggests a kind of crazy amusement park ride rising up into the sky from a congested roadway.
The show also includes a large landscape of a swimming hole surrounded by rocks in the high Sierra and several paintings of suburban back and side yards. The most intriguing is “Palms,” a quirky, precisely realistic oil on canvas of a yard with a wading pool, an inflatable pool float in the shape of a cartoon-like animal, a coiled hose, a basketball hoop, a ladder, and a bucket in electric shades of blue, green, pink, and orange that is truly weird.
It’s awfully well done, but I liked better a trio of paintings of an unlovely side yard with some of the same objects but a looser, more painterly approach leaning toward the spirit of the freeway scenes.
Ryan M. Reynolds: Paintings Freeways and Suburbia
Where: b. sakata garo, 920 20th Street.
When: Through March 3. Noon to 6 p.m Tuesday-Saturday.