I’ll be very surprised if Jack Ogden’s superb show of new paintings and sculptures
at b. sakata garo doesn’t wind up at the top of my list of
favorite shows of the year. I know it’s only April, but this
show truly blew me away.
|"Once Upon A Time", oil on canvas, 2017 |
It opens with “Once Upon a Time,” a brilliant
large-scale painting of Joseph P. Kennedy (JFK’s father)
and his large family, circa 1938, that stops you in your tracks.
Evocative, richly layered with psychological
insights and subtle allusions to Diego Velasquez’s
Baroque masterpiece, “Las Meninas,” it’s a museum quality
painting that rewards long looking.
References to “Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor)”
sneak into Ogden’s painting from the top and sides.
Considered by many the greatest painting in the history
of art and a metaphor for the nobility of art and artists,
the Velasquez is a group portrait of the Spanish royal family:
the king and queen reflected in a mirror, the five-year-old
Infanta Margarita at the center surrounded by members of the
court, Velasquez and the back of his canvas off to one side.
In “Once Upon a time,” Ogden, one of Sacramento’s
premier artists since the late 1950s, paints an American
royal family posing for a group portrait. Images from
Velasquez’s royal portrait include the back of a large
canvas on the left, a lighted doorway with a man in a
dark cloak in the far distance, and a blurry image of
a dwarf kicking a dog in the shadows on the right.
While the colors in Ogden’s painting are bright
and the handling bold, there is a feeling of melancholy,
mutability, even menace in the image. Father Joe, seated in
front with a five-year-old Teddy Kennedy on his lap is fully
rendered, but as the painting moves back the older children
are painted with lessening degrees of resolution. JFK’s brother
Joe, who was killed in World War II fades into a ghost
on the far right.
The dark figure in the doorway may be a
personification of Death at the door, standing
over the future President’s shoulder, about to shut
the door on the light. The back of the canvas
is an image that often appears in Ogden’s “Painter
in the Studio” series, and here connects him to
the long tradition of easel painting that Velasquez
exemplifies. The dwarf and the dog suggest a kind of
cruel comedy that brings us down to earth with an ironic thud.
The uniformly excellent show then moves from stunning
oil self-portraits, studio scenes, and still lifes of painters’
tools to eccentric figurative sculptures made from pruned
tree limbs, found wooden objects, dolls, empty paint tubes,
used brushes, and other cast-offs.
“Picture That” is a new painting over a scraped
down painting from 1960 that depicts a comic image of
an awkward artist with bubblegum stuck to his shoe, a
skull on a squat classical column, and a painting of
a mysterious man on an easel. Images from the earlier
painting seem to bleed through, forming a colorful
chorus behind the main action.
“Maybe” is a self-portrait of Ogden at work,
pointing at something unseen and casting his shadow
on a barely begun painting. Behind the canvas, a
sensual nude and a red-handed man lurk in the shadows.
Smaller but no less engaging are radical paintings
like “Pause,” a raw self portrait in a doorway,
and “#6,” a misshapen, liver-colored head of
a man holding a paintbrush with a long, glowing,
titanium blue handle.
Even more exciting are Ogden’s new wood and
found object sculptures of quirky figures that range
from “Jak” “Pilgrim” and “Royo,” small Giacometti-thin
table-top figures, to large, mysterious, humanlike
figures, such as the dapper, dangerous “Max;” “Peg Leg,”
a black hatted pirate with a long liar’s nose,
a Japanese hand tool arm and thin dowel-like legs;
and “Ogo,” a two-faced artist with palette and paint can.
I also liked “Jana,” a female painter with spiky punk
hair; “Infanta,” a pop version of Velasquez’s royal girl-child
with a fancy white tulle skirt and a Kewpie-doll head; and
“Zaza,” a foxy lady with axe-handle legs, a soft doll’s head,
a monkey fur boa, and an exotic bird companion.
Drawing on African and other tribal sources, a sense of
bodily empathy, the wit of William T. Wiley, and the
strange emotional impact of Bob Brady’s wood and clay
figures, Ogden’s superb sculptures signal an exciting
new direction for one of Northern California’s strongest artists.
This is a show that makes me love my job.
WHEN: Noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, through April 28
WHERE: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.
INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276. www.bsakatagaro.com