young at art: 15 artists under 35
Laura Richard Janku
When publisher Horace Greeley advised the youth of his era to “Go west ... ! And grow with the country!” he surely had other things on his mind than contemporary art. But these days, more than ever, young artists are coming west. If the West Coast has exploded as an art center since the 1990s, it is at least partly because its institutions have become such a prolific incubator for this new generation of aspiring talents. From schools like UCLA, CalArts, and CSULB in the L.A. region and SFAI and CCA in San Francisco, to homegrown collectives like SOIL in Seattle, to emerging artist awards like SFMOMA’s SECA in San Francisco, to museums like PAM in Portland, which sponsors the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards this summer, or OCMA in Orange County, which once again hosts its influential California Biennial this fall, the West Coast has become a veritable alphabet soup of youthful creative endeavor.
Certainly, there is no age limit to the term “emerging artist.” Many top artists take years to establish a memorable voice, style, or approach, and even longer to refine it. It can be a lonely journey; the best emerging artists are often those whose have taken years to emerge. Yet there is a reason that so many gallerists stalk through MFA shows in search of new talent: young artists still in the process of discovering their own skills and inventing their own lexicon often attack their creative process with tremendous vigor and willingness to explore new terrain.
In the following pages, art ltd. sets forth a special section, profiling 15 West Coast artists under the age of 35. A few, like Amanda Ross-Ho of Los Angeles or San Jose’s Binh Danh, have already received a fair share of attention, others are still working toward their first solo show. Some earned their chops as studio assistants for better-known mentors; all of them are still in the opening act of their careers. Call them “artists to watch,” “critic’s picks,” or what-have-you, they are artists who have already gained the eye of West Coast gallerists, curators, or collectors, and who we think deserve the attention. Not despite their relative youth, but because of it
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Jamie Vasta, San Francisco
"As White As Snow"
Glitter, Stain on Wood
36" x 48"
Photo: Courtesy of Patricia Sweetow Gallery, San Francisco
All that glitters may not be gold, but Jamie Vasta has a definite Midas touch with a certain crafty material. With a brush of her fingertips, glitter is alchemized from carnivalesque into uncanny and classic figurative paintings. Vasta’s most recent works continue to upend Disney’s sanitized versions of myth and fairytale. With glitter as a powdery shorthand for magic that cuts both ways, she reinstates the original, darker fables where human nature is darker and messier and endings are usually not happy. In her current Witches series, Vasta has sharpened her focus from slightly macabre staged narrative scenes to renaissance-like portraits of powerful women. Timeless and beguiling, Vasta’s subjects radically revise the cartoons of haggard crones and evil sorceresses into archetypes of strength, whose nimbleness, beauty and enchantment are embodied by their glinting and mercurial materiality.
Inspired by Buddhist sand mandalas and sequined voodoo flags, Vasta realized that glitter’s physical response to light achieved effects that even haloed oil paint could not. As an undergrad at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, many professors sniffed at her use of such a “low” material. Like the strong women she portrays, Vasta persisted: “I like having to create my own rules… working with a material that doesn’t have centuries of history to answer to. Glitter is wide open.” Fortunately, the MFA program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco (she graduated in 2006), afforded her the space and support to delve into its full potential.
Exhaustive experimentation and a shift in subject matter resulted in her breakthrough Ecstatic Landscapes (2005) which echo the transcendence of nineteenth-century Romantic painting. Un/Natural Disasters (2006) complicated pure landscape with death and destruction—fire and storms lend themselves particularly well to glitter, as do the glowing parking lot lights in the Suburban Sublime works from 2006. With each new series, humans have stepped closer to the fore and Vasta has delved deeper into their psyche. In Arcadia (2006), people—by virtue of their small scale and casual activities—were visitors in the natural environment; in Musn’t (2007) they occupied center stage, engaged in slightly sinister rituals.
Vasta’s process has also shifted to the more deterministic. Where she used to use found images as her sources, she now carefully choreographs and photographs performances for her paintings. She hires models and scouts secluded sites. On location, she dresses and directs the subjects into open-ended scenes that speak of archetypal characters and situations, and human nature. Back in the studio, Vasta edits, selects and crops the images that imagine a particular moment across myth and time. While the new Witches are less macabre than the earlier violent narrative threads she pulled from legend, the Bible, the Iliad, and Angela Carter’s feminist fairy tales, they are no less disarming or ambiguous. Framed by Vasta’s signature tangle of bare, stained branches, the witches’ formal poses and regal bearing establish that they are in control. The paintings’ shimmer of variegated color confirm that there is no black-and-white in this world, and the glitter in the witches’ eyes—along with ongoing art-world accolades—suggest that Vasta has indeed cast her spell.
Jamie Vasta is represented by Patricia Sweetow Gallery, 77 Geary St., San Francisco, CA. (415) 788-5126 www.patriciasweetowgallery.com