Sketches from California have a lot of spit and polish at Fjord

[Roberta encounters the beach, some seals playing in a fountain, landscapes and kitsch in a group show at Fjord. — the Artblog editors)

The word sketches usually means quick, fresh, unfinished.  For Sketches from California, a group show of works by artists from the UC San Diego graduate art program, artist and curator Frankie Martin specifically asked for and got works that are quick and fresh.  But to this viewer, the pieces look as finished as a lot of what passes for finished these days.  There’s spit and polish in the videos, drawings, and installations and thoughts or thought-fragments that make complete sense. In other words, Sketches demonstrates that a toss off can be the real thing, and a “finished” work might just be a sketch gone wrong.

Video video video – see a new video in the show tomorrow

The perfect time to see the show at Fjord (which you Should Do) is at the closing reception this Saturday, Sept. 27 from 12PM-4PM.  In addition to the works already included, you will get to see a new video, “Sketch Club!” which was compiled by Martin and Matt Savitsky from footage made by a variety of artists who participated in a Sketch Club workshop at Fjord this month in conjunction with the show.  The idea of an exquisite corpse video sounds pretty fresh to me.

beach blanket and line on floor
Brianna Rigg and Clinton McCallum-floor front-Rigg: Tidal Line (or Sculpture to Run Alongside) 2014, poplar and screw, varying length of 10-100 ft.; floor rear-McCallum: Theme Song (Beachday Version) 2014, mixed media sound installation

California Dreamin’ and California seals

The work in the show is lovable in a California dreamin’ way.  There’s a beach blanket installation by Clinton McCallum with a nearby hinged rope line emulating the residue line washed up by waves (by Brianna Rigg).  A row of kitsch “denim” coffee mugs hangs on a kitsch wood coffee mug holder by Joe Yorty that would fit perfectly in Piney’s cabin in the woods in Sons of Anarchy.

coffee mugs on wall
Joe Yorty-Good Dinner Honey, 2014, ceramic denim mugs on wooden shelf

CALIFORNIA SEALS from frankie martin on Vimeo.


Martin’s “California Seals,” a performance video with political message posits the “homelessness” of seals who might be displaced from their beach by a development (the development didn’t go through after all, Martin says — the seals were saved).  Here, the “seals,” male performers in grey tights, cavort in slow motion in a public fountain.  It’s not the ocean but where else are they going to go?  Projected in the gallery and with a sound track that includes excerpts of Mahler’s mournful First Symphony (Third Movement), the piece is hypnotic and funny, and it’s eerie how perfect the human performers are as seals, flopping around, barking, piling up on top of each other as seals do.  We are not so far from our aquatic ancestors after all.

Martin, who has an undergraduate degree from Tyler and a graduate degree from UC San Diego, recently moved back to Philly. She has a day job at CHOP making art with children with long-term illnesses (through the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp), and, being a performer and video maker herself, is especially interested in our performance and video scene here.

Multidisciplinary approach

UC San Diego has a multi-disciplinary focus and there are collaborations and pieces with multiple medias throughout the show.  For example, Martin collaborated with Ross Karre, who did the sound design for “California Seals.”


Matt Savitsky, who Libby and I followed when he was in Philly — here’s our 2011 slide-show podcast with him — has a strange but understated video, “Flagged for Removal,” which follows the chopping down of a large palm tree. Savitsky, dressed in drag and with face painted Kabuki-white, stands at the bottom of the tree, a diva- and faun-like witness who none of the workers acknowledge or even appear to see.

girl looking up
Ash Eliza Smith-Pas De Deux 2012, endless self-(help) Love looping video

Another performance nobody seems to see is Ash Eliza Smith’s looping “Pas De Deux,” 2012. Alone in an empty alleyway the artist twirls and spins, standing and lying on the ground, in a dance with her camera.  It’s a physically-demanding dance that might make you dizzy. The solitary love song of an artist to herself and truly, to her camera might be a comment on artistic narcissism, and it may well be a toss off, a sketch, but, like Martin’s, the wordless piece is completely hypnotic and captivating.

ink drawing on wall
Nina Preisendorfer-haus landscape #3, 2014, ink on paper, 2 1/4×36″

Other nice resonant works in the show are Nina Preisendorfer’s “haus landscape #1” a detailed ink drawing presented in short stripes of paper, hung in a kind of flat Donald Judd box formation. The piece, which reminds me of work by the great Chicago imagist Roger Brown  looks abstract until you get up nose-to-nose for the surprise micro-vista. And Brianna Rigg’s “Tidal Line (or Sculpture to Run Alongside)” is a satisfying hinged wood line that wends its way across the floor, mimicking all kinds of children’s toys, as well as snakes and sketched doodles in the sand.

It’s great to see all this accomplished work at Fjord, a space that keeps on giving. Check it out tomorrow.

Sketches from California, through Saturday, Sept. 27. Hours noon-4 PM. FJORD 2419 Frankford Ave.