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San Francisco Chroncle


'Conversation 5': 1 S.F. artist, 1 out-of-town


Nirmala Nataraj


Thursday, July 23, 2009


SF Arts Commission Gallery


"Loudly, Death Unties," a video work by Toronto artists Nicholas and Sheila Pye, "really fit with what I was trying to do with my work," says San Francisco painter Jamie Vasta.

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The latest exhibition at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, "Conversation 5," explores gender dynamics, the unpredictability of intimate relationships and the pervasiveness of mythic images of the polar forces of desire and terror. The works of San Francisco painter Jamie Vasta and Toronto husband-and-wife filmmaking duo Nicholas and Sheila Pye use similar narratives and figures to create fairy tales swimming in lush colors and sexy danger.


Gallery Director Meg Shiffler created the series of "Conversation" exhibitions in late 2005. The concept was that a local artist would be showcased alongside an artist from another point on the globe. "This format teaches us about how our local art production is involved in an international dialogue," she says.


The current exhibition unites the featured artists "both in their narrative devices and their concern for formal beauty," according to Shiffler. The SFAC Gallery, which encourages local artists to experiment, is including three works by Vasta that are the largest pieces of her career. And while the Pyes have achieved notoriety internationally, they are making their local debut.


Vasta's darkly sensual works explore folkloric narratives with dramatic, sometimes violent themes. Her three featured pieces comprise "Sirens," influenced by the enchantresses of "The Odyssey" as well as fairy tales about mermaids and water witches. In Vasta's lush, contemporized triptych, which is meant to function as an installation and as individual stand-alones, a group of scantily clad women drag a screaming man wearing shirt and tie into a churning pool of water.


"I like to start with fairy tale archetypes - the virtuous woman, the evil witch, the hero, the fool - and play with them," says Vasta.


The complex surfaces and visceral nature of the pieces may stem from the fact that Vasta works with glitter. "Glitter is physically captivating, dazzling and also looked down on for its femininity," she says. "I want the women in my work to be powerful and scary. ... But since I'm working with glitter, the subject matter has to have a bit of a hard edge to it, or else it slides into the saccharine and kitschy."


In the Pyes' 11-minute 2008 film, "Loudly, Death Unties," the two play a couple holed up in a claustrophobic lodge who are troubled by the recurrent visitation of a banshee. The film is an extended metaphor about the man coming to terms with the death of his lover.


Reception 7-9 tonight. Through Sept. 19. Noon-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F. (415) 554-6080.


- Nirmala Nataraj,


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