First, there’s the guy in the top hat, bathrobe and joke X-ray specs. Then there’s the guy dressed as Baby New Year planting a wet one on a woman who might or might not be his wife. Turns out he’s the same guy and obviously the life of the party.
He’s part of a cast of characters that inhabit Patrick Marasso’s smooth oil paintings of found photographs, up at JayJay, that document cocktail parties, camping trips and family gatherings from decades past. Many of these are obtained from families of people who have died or people who are downsizing and want to get rid of family albums that are full of forgotten people and pleasures.
Marasso has an eye for the incongruous detail and the unintentionally weird image. The surprised man in “Misunderstood” is shot from an unattractive angle and clearly not expecting to be caught on film. The man and boy (father and son? older and younger brothers?) sitting in a Tilt-A-Whirl in “Excitable Boy” are a study in alienation. On one level these images may make you think of Diane Arbus photos, but Marasso says he is in no way exploiting or making fun of the people in his paintings.
His images, more silly than cruel, allow the viewer to become a detective, sussing out relationships between people and comparing them to people in their own families or at parties their parents gave.
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He uses traditional materials and methods of painting to create his oils, which while based on photos are not really photo-realist images. They are not as crisp or driven as works by Audrey Flack or Richard Estes. Some of his recent images, including the one of the guy in joke glasses, are based on Kodachrome slides rather than film-based snapshots and have a sharper and more intense quality than works like “Halloween Parade,” with its washed-out assemblage of little kids dressed up in scary or exotic costumes.
Ranging from awkward to dark-edged images, Marasso documents the sterility of suburbia and the ominous quality of children with war toys in “New Frontier.” “All the Young Dudes” is a shot of a couple holding toothpicks with a green olive in their teeth as they chew their way toward a kiss. “End of the Party” catches a departing group with a surprised man and a woman whose face is washed out by a flashbulb; she looks half-dead.
Of his work, Marasso writes, “I am fascinated by the banal snapshot, the familiarity in such images that were derived by an indiscriminate approach to personal documentation. … They contain an artless commonality with their clunky compositions, poor lighting, and faded color.”
Such snapshots, he noted, may be a thing of the past as digital cameras and smartphones allow shutter bugs to delete their mistakes. He seeks to preserve them and give them a degree of tacky gravitas in his appropriations of vernacular events from decades past.
On view in JayJay’s back gallery is a series of one-of-a-kind plates by 21 artists. They range from S.R. Jones’ “Gran Circ,” a romantic image of a nude and a white horse against a powder-blue background, to Roger Berry’s “Stressed Plate,” a large, misshapen, brushed-steel disk that is luxuriously lovely.
Most of the artists show work that is typical of their styles, among them Michael Stevens’ “Outfox,” a wooden box with shards of a plate bearing the image of a fox inside; Ken Little’s “Hippo Plate,” a yellow plate with a blue-green bronze hippo head atop it; and Dean DeCocker’s “Diamond Head,” an aluminum, steel and powder-coat construction typical of his aircraft-inspired, abstract sculptures.
Among other pieces that stand out are Julia Couzens’ witty textile and text-based “Dream Plate,” made of wire, tulle, electrical tape, pipe cleaners, thread and felt; Joe Mariscal’s animated ceramic “Fish Plate”; and Suzanne Adan’s eccentric, black-and-white ceramic “Doodad,” a figurative piece that mimics one of her scratchboard works.
What: Two shows, “Patrick Marasso: Album Selections” and “Feast – The Plate Show”
Where: JayJay, 5520 Elvas Ave., Sacramento
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, through Dec. 19
Information: 916-453-2999, www.jayjayart.com