Arts & Theater

Jose Di Gregorio and Kerry Cottle: Spectacles of line and growth

Jose Di Gregorio’s “Portrait of Life Flowing to Wind”
Jose Di Gregorio’s “Portrait of Life Flowing to Wind”

Jose Di Gregorio’s art takes you on a ride into his visionary space, but rather than being beamed up, we are beamed into an elegant, geometric landscape.

Di Gregorio is associated with a group of artists whose work has been referred to as “New Futurism.” They explore visual wormholes into math, science and structural ideas about the cosmos.

His work and that of artist Kerry Cottle blast the beautifully open space of Beatnik Studios with sizzling, thrumming color. Their exhibition, “Vittu Saatana” (Finnish for a rude phrase to Satan), presents an array of emblematic paintings – mandalas frozen in Day-Glo color – like geometric super novae. The hypnotic appeal of Di Gregorio’s work and the folk textile-influenced art of Cottle hold the gallery in a prismatic, ethereal embrace.

Di Gregorio’s paintings stand firmly on the shoulders of early 1970s Op Art. Like Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely and Richard Anuszkiewics, Op Art’s most noted practitioners, Di Gregorio concerns himself with the formalities of rhythmic abstraction, clean lines and acutely detailed geometry.

Di Gregorio has been exhibiting his superbly crafted murals and paintings throughout Sacramento for several years. But his career is making quantum leaps into the international scene, with recent large-scale projects in Mexico, Finland and Canada. In 2015 he was commissioned for a mural at Art Basel Miami Beach, one of the contemporary art world’s most prestigious art fairs. Recently, he designed an installation for Sacramento’s Art Hotel.

“Portrait of Life Flowing to Wind” (2016) is a dizzying spectacle of intersecting line and finely sprayed gradients of paint. Di Gregorio’s exquisite precision is reminiscent of noted Sacramento painter David Wetzl’s painstakingly crafted geometries. The meticulous application of pigment into overlapping lines invites kaleidoscopic forays through Di Gregorio’s visionary space. Rather than being beamed up, we are beamed into his hallucinogenic cosmic scenarios.

“Northern Light Wave 1” (2016) is one of seven mixed media works employing ink or paint that richly saturates the paper, giving it the look of a print. It’s one of Di Gregorio’s most reductive pieces and provides relief from what could become the monotony of complexity. Layering linear squares, rectangles and octagons, he creates a sort of erector set mandala that dangles galactic desire before us.

Emerging Sacramento artist Cottle appears to share the same concerns as Di Gregorio. A recent graduate of California State University, Sacramento, this is Cottle’s first major exhibition at Beatnik. Cottle and Di Gregorio make a comfortable pairing. Like Di Gregorio, she deploys complex diagrams of color, organizes her abstract paintings into geometric sequences and invests her large-scale painting with emblematic constructs. But where Di Gregorio lifts off with a mechanical, even clinical sensibility, Cottle’s work is grounded in the imperfection of the handmade.

Di Gregorio’s application is seamless, even bulletproof. Cottle’s painterly decisions are exposed. We see her hand at work. Stops, starts and fuzzy edges humanize her painting and works on paper. Many of her influences come from craft traditions. She states that Slavic embroidery and textiles such as Ukrainian rushnyky and Karelian embroidery are influences. Her step-by-step pointillist dots of pigment give her work the look of embroidery, as if she were stitching and tatting with paint.

Cottle’s reach is ambitious. At 6 by 6 feet, “The Egg” (2015) is one of the largest paintings in this show. Composed of flatly applied dots and geometric units of paint, it is a formal primer of structure and color harmonics. But the painting’s title reveals Cottle’s concern for connective systems and regenerative growth. It’s no mistake that the work is reminiscent of aboriginal art or the visionary pencil drawings of Swiss artist Emma Kunz (1892-1963).

Which brings me to the biggest surprise of the show: the suite of Cottle’s notebook drawings (2012-2016), clipped like laundry to a simple line of string and installed behind a closed door. Had the work not been noted on the exhibition checklist, they might have remained the best-kept secret in town. Drawn with ballpoint pen, they are little paper tickets showing the tender probing of first thoughts. Despite the superbly crafted and dazzling art in the main gallery, these drawings may be the heart of the art.

Vittu Saatana

Artists: Kerry Cottle & Jose Di Gregorio

Where: Beatnik Studios, 723 S St., Sacramento

When: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesdays, 11:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, through Sept. 22. Also by appointment.

Reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2