I’ll be very surprised if Jack Ogden’s superb show of new paintings and sculptures at b. sakata garo doesn’t wind up at the top of my list of favorite shows of the year. I know it’s only April, but this show truly blew me away.
It opens with “Once Upon a Time,” a brilliant large-scale painting of Joseph P. Kennedy (JFK’s father) and his large family, circa 1938, that stops you in your tracks.
Evocative, richly layered with psychological insights and subtle allusions to Diego Velasquez’s Baroque masterpiece, “Las Meninas,” it’s a museum quality painting that rewards long looking. References to “Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor)” sneak into Ogden’s painting from the top and sides. Considered by many the greatest painting in the history of art and a metaphor for the nobility of art and artists, the Velasquez is a group portrait of the Spanish royal family: the king and queen reflected in a mirror, the 5-year-old Infanta Margarita at the center surrounded by members of the court, Velasquez and the back of his canvas off to one side.
In “Once Upon a time,” Ogden, one of Sacramento’s premier artists since the late 1950s, paints an American royal family posing for a group portrait. Images from Velasquez’s royal portrait include the back of a large canvas on the left, a lighted doorway with a man in a dark cloak in the far distance, and a blurry image of a dwarf kicking a dog in the shadows on the right.
While the colors in Ogden’s painting are bright and the handling bold, there is a feeling of melancholy, mutability, even menace in the image. Father Joe, seated in front with a 5-year-old Teddy Kennedy on his lap is fully rendered, but as the painting moves back the older children are painted with lessening degrees of resolution. JFK’s brother Joe, who was killed in World War II, fades into a ghost on the far right.
The dark figure in the doorway may be a personification of Death at the door, standing over the future President’s shoulder, about to shut the door on the light. The back of the canvas is an image that often appears in Ogden’s “Painter in the Studio” series, and here connects him to the long tradition of easel painting that Velasquez exemplifies. The dwarf and the dog suggest a kind of cruel comedy that brings us down to earth with an ironic thud.
The uniformly excellent show then moves from stunning oil self-portraits, studio scenes and still-life works of painters’ tools to eccentric figurative sculptures made from pruned tree limbs, found wooden objects, dolls, empty paint tubes, used brushes and other cast-offs.
“Picture That” is a new painting over a scraped down painting from 1960 that depicts a comic image of an awkward artist with bubblegum stuck to his shoe, a skull on a squat classical column, and a painting of a mysterious man on an easel. Images from the earlier painting seem to bleed through, forming a colorful chorus behind the main action.
“Maybe” is a self-portrait of Ogden at work, pointing at something unseen and casting his shadow on a barely begun painting. Behind the canvas, a sensual nude and a red-handed man lurk in the shadows. Smaller but no less engaging are radical paintings like “Pause,” a raw self portrait in a doorway, and “#6,” a misshapen, liver-colored head of a man holding a paintbrush with a long, glowing, titanium blue handle.
Even more exciting are Ogden’s new wood and found object sculptures of quirky figures that range from “Jak” “Pilgrim” and “Royo,” small, Giacometti-thin table-top figures, to large, mysterious, human-like figures, such as the dapper, dangerous “Max"; “Peg Leg,” a pirate with a long liar’s nose and a black hat, a Japanese hand tool arm and thin dowel-like legs; and “Ogo,” a two-faced artist with palette and paint can.
I also liked “Jana,” a female painter with spiky punk hair; “Infanta,” a pop version of Velasquez’s royal girl-child with a fancy white tulle skirt and a Kewpie-doll head; and “Zaza,” a foxy lady with axe-handle legs, a soft doll’s head, a monkey fur boa, and an exotic bird companion. Drawing on African and other tribal sources, a sense of bodily empathy, the wit of William T. Wiley, and the strange emotional impact of Bob Brady’s wood and clay figures, Ogden’s engaging sculptures signal an exciting new direction for one of Northern California’s strongest artists.
This is a show that makes me love my job.
Where: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.
When: Through April 28. Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Information: 916-447-4276. bsakatagaro.com