Although they are married to each other, Suzanne Adan and Michael Stevens, two of Sacramento’s most respected artists, rarely show together. It’s a rare occurrence when they do and, like their long-ago show “Mr. and Mrs.” at their alma mater, Sacramento State University, their joint effort “Return to Kit ‘N’ Kaboodle” at JayJay is a blast.
The show comes in two parts: an assortment of individual works by each, dating from 1979 to 2018, that form a mini-retrospective. And a new version of “Kit ‘N’ Kaboodle,” an interactive installation for children and their parents they created for the Crocker Art Museum last fall. The two segments of the show demonstrate how much their works are alike, how much they are different and how brilliantly they go together.
Adan’s wizardry runs throughout her work. “Crosses to Bear,” 1979, a long horizontal painting, in which she used the tiny obsessive mark-making that has become her signature style for the first time, depicts tiny arcane figures scattered throughout a delicately textured, painterly surface, that undulates with a subtle glow.
“Maid of Honor Too,” 2018, is a work in pencil and collage mounted on a child’s washboard that gives us an intricate image of a bizarre yet beautiful woman in a half mask sprouting snaky vines and a twig holding up a hat that has an all-seeing eye from the top of her head. Menacing rope-like blonde braids, cut out from a magazine, run down her back. Surrounded by surreal images both appropriated and drawn, she holds two pipes in her mouth, perhaps a reference to Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe titled “Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe).”
Puns run through her graphic works on paper. A trio of strong linocuts from her “Seven Deadly Sins Series,” 1991, include “Anger: Bad Blood Chair Back,” a skeletal figure that turns into a ladder back chair; “Sloth: Ass Backwards,” a donkey’s head on a voluptuous seated nude with a tiny skeleton and a small barking dog at her feet; and “Pride: Crow’s Feet,” a woman with a heavily wrinkled, almost striated face, spitting into a coffee cup and sending up wavy lines indicating rising steam from her head.
Stevens’ mixed media wall pieces incorporate the artist’s own paintings in enamel, reproductions of kitschy thrift store paintings of popular images, carved wooden puppets, toys, fish and other figures. Humorous, menacing, and sometimes downright creepy, they often draw on media sources from the 1950s, such as Howdy Doody and Disney’s dog Pluto, to create dark edged fantasies of morally ambiguous worlds.
In “Frankenstein Walks Alone,” he conflates a smiling ventriloquist’s dummy with Frankenstein’s monster and places the masterfully carved figure in front of a reproduction of a ho-hum landscape painting of a shady glade. A crown of wasps Stevens has painted on the found painting form a halo around the monster/dummy’s head and a pair of skulls fashioned from cut-up paintings add an element of danger to the work.
Surrealist master Magritte again comes to mind in “Ahab,” a startling image of a giant flying fish with huge eyes floating over a stock stormy seascape. The title refers to the mad and vengeful sea captain in Herman Melville’s novel, “Moby Dick,” who fanatically pursues an enormous white whale that attacked him and caused him to lose his leg. Yet there is humor as well as menace in this fish tale that pits Stevens’ skillful painting of a fish out of water with eyes that make one think of Betty Boop or a Krazy Kat clock with moving eyes against a trite marine painting from a junk store or yard sale.
The show culminates in “Return to Kit ‘N’ Kaboodle,” a freshly curated version of the Crocker installation that was up in the museum’s educational galleries the last four months of 2018. The reboot at JayJay presents a children’s playroom decorated with large-scale images of childlike figures cut out of plywood covered with layered thrift store paintings by Stevens.
They are juxtaposed with playful painted plywood images of dogs, cats, birds, hatrack-like trees and floating numbers by Adan. The result is an imaginary world that demonstrates how kindred the sensibilities of these singular artists are in a delightful creation that will appeal to adults as much as children.
It should be noted also that Stevens’ “Against the Grain,” a large solo exhibition of his works dedicated to the late art patron and collector Russ Solomon, is up at Pence Gallery, 212 D St. in Davis through April 3.
If you go
What: “Return to Kit ‘N’ Kaboodle”: Works by Suzanne Adan and Michael Stevens
Where: JayJay Gallery, 5524B Elvas Ave, Sacramento
When: Through March 30. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday or by appointment.
Info: (916) 453-2999