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June 19, 2015
Art Review

Paintings as brushstroke essays on art

By Victoria Dalkey, The Sacramento Bee art correspondent

"Tom Marioni's "13 Stroke Rooster" and "Pi" They're part of an exhibition at b. sakata garo.
“Retire From Art & Take Up Painting” is the title of noted San Francisco conceptual artist Tom Marioni’s show at b. sakata garo. This head-scratcher raises a question. Is painting not an art?

In his entertaining and revelatory book “Beer, Art and Philosophy,” Marioni wrote: “The whole point of Conceptual Art in the ’60s and ’70s was to break away from all that formalist stuff – many artists in my generation really thought painting was dead. Even Warhol declared it dead in 1968. I thought it was an old, quaint, pictorial form that had evolved over five hundred years into an aesthetic that was about flatness and paint. I thought it had run its course.”

But painting revived in the 1980s and while often endangered seems to be with us for the long run. Thus, though still essentially a conceptual artist, Marioni has “taken up painting” with a series of fastidiously executed acrylics that are copies of artist prints of the 20th century.

Pairing works by artists he admires, he presents a kind of personal art history that ranges from 20th-century masters Picasso and Matisse to conceptual artists like Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Joseph Beuys.

There is much pleasure in bouncing back and forth between images such as Picasso’s complex, white on black, erotic gravure to the boldness and seeming simplicity of Matisse’s lithograph of a woman’s head that looks like an ink-and-brush drawing.

I have said that these are copies but that is not exactly true. They replicate the images but not in the same scale or materials of the originals. Marioni’s “copies” employ a single medium and are rarely, if ever, of the same size as their models.

For the most part, there is little illusionistic work, though Ed Ruscha’s “OOO” with fool-the-eye drops of water proves the rule. Even Wayne Thiebaud’s “Pie Slice” is a study in abstract forms that complement the triangular forms in its companion, Richard Diebenkorn’s purely abstract “Etching #3.”

Each of Marioni’s pairings are like essays on art criticism that compare and contrast their subjects. Thus Sol Lewitt’s squares with diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines in each quarter and Frank Stella’s linear abstraction pop with optical energy though they are examples of different art movements. Conversely Yves Klein’s “Anthropométrie,” a blue body print, and Joseph Beuys‘ tender lithograph “Hind” seem to share a similar spirit.

Marioni includes a pair of his own prints “Stroke Rooster,” a direct gravure, and “Pi,” a wood block print, each drawn with a seagull feather. I’m not sure what the connection between the two is, but in his book Marioni states that for him pi “represents the mathematical equivalent of God.”

Marioni has put a good deal of thought into his print pairings, which are witty and conceptual in nature. For context, he has also included a couple of earlier conceptual works: “From Painting to Sculpture,” an homage to his hero Duchamp in the form of a nail, a string, and a graphite shadow that delineates the missing frame, and “Invisible Painting,” a blank space on a white wall enclosed by two strips of tape. They are vintage Marioni.

Tom Marioni

WHERE: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.

WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays,through June 27

INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276