In evaluating the Schneider Museum of Art summer exhibition, it's clear that the curators were not going for any sort of continuity in theme — the artwork ranges from classical works of SUMI-E brush and ink works on paper to lush, contemporary, heavily patterned oil paintings.
Somehow, though, the show works well. Upon entering the gallery space, one is greeted by the subtle but impactful Japanese-style watercolors by regional artist Liz Shepard. These haunting works seem to float in time; they function as deferential, honorific totems to the earlier art of Sesshū Tōyō and Tenshō Shūbun. Shepard — a 60-something English-born artist who is based in Ashland — has spent decades evolving her process to this point. It is clear that the work on display has been made by the hand of a master.
Deeper into the gallery, the visitor is greeted by a pair of epic paintings from bi-coastal artist Tofer Chin. In addition to several strong, smaller pieces, the viewer is flanked on both sides of the main gallery by two monumental artworks painted directly onto the walls of the museum. This seems to indicate that Chin sees himself as an installation artist, as — according to a museum attendant — the paintings will likely be destroyed at the end of the season. Exquisitely rendered and reminiscent of Mokha Laget, with a color sensibility more along the lines of Agnes Martin, Chin is clearly influenced by the hard edge abstractionism of the late 1950s. He nevertheless manages to create a linear dialogue that is distinct in its originality.
In the next gallery space, the viewer will come across the robust oil paintings of Ryan Schneider, whose work takes inspiration from the Mojave Desert, and from the environment around the artists Joshua Tree studio space. Despite a clear Southwestern influence that could easily veer into kitchy mediocrity, it is obvious to the critical eye that Schneider has a strong academic art background. While the paintings feature potent, florescent colors and subject matter that includes owls, coyotes, and jackrabbits, the artist is definitively referencing the work of the New York School, most notably in the deceptively comical "Howl," a work of perhaps 80 by 140 inches, which when properly observed has a flow and volume evocative of Willem DeKooning's 1948 "Asheville."
The final artist on display in this compelling show is the work of Los Angeles-based Persian painter Amir H. Fallah. Fallah's work is a contemporary nod to a post-impressionistic primitivism; the warm, complex paintings are shaped variously like eggs and tombstones. If this was an unconscious choice on the part of the artist, it certainly creates an amusing visual commentary on the push and pull between life and death that might easily be interpreted as an invitation to stroll into one of Fallah's densely-foliaged pictures to engage whatever beasts might lie within.
Other than the fact that all four artists work in a more conventional space and live on the West Coast, there seems to be little happening in the conversation at a curatorial level. Overall, the show is a successful one. This is more as a result of the combined talents of four interesting and diverse artists; the presentation and display of the work is decidedly conventional.
The Schneider Museum Summer Exhibition runs through Sept. 9 at Southern Oregon Univerisity.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.