Engaging the Elements

Davis Dominguez Gallery showcases four artists working in different ways

Jennifer Day and Joshua Olivera conjure up the land in strikingly different ways.

Day paints recognizable trees and skies and hills in her northerly landscapes but she simplifies them into geometries. In "Strike Anywhere," the biggest of her acrylics on canvas in the "Four to Watch" exhibition at Davis Dominguez, her pines are scrappy green triangles on sticks. Skies are patchy layers of color. Houses edging their way into the wilderness are reduced to the sharp diagonals of their rooftops.

And these elements don't always stay obediently in place. In "Autumnal Loop," Day goes surreal, locating a repeating forest above and below her sky. Flaming orange lollipop-style trees line the bottom of the canvas, a low line of hills rising up behind them. Above them is a nice brushy sky in blue and ochre. All well and good, but above this only slightly off-kilter landscape is an entirely new one. Another row of blazing red and orange trees floats above the sky, creating a continuing loop of the autumnal north.

Olivera likes diagonals even more than Day does and he goes deeper into abstraction. Hailing from flat agricultural regions of California, Olivera conveys the horizontal sweep of the land in an austere combo of straight lines and angles; he uses bands of color to simulate fields and roads. In wall works that are part painting, part sculpture, he embeds scrap wood into thick layers of lustrously colored resin.

"The South Takes What the North Delivers" is actually two separate pieces hung horizontally one above the other. The shadowy space between them becomes the straight-across horizon that divides the western vista into two. A sharp line zooms downward from top left, dividing a rust-colored sky from the dark orange earth. A fragment of pale wood heads across the middle, like a freight train crossing the flatlands. A second piece of wood is embedded into the resin of the lower half, darting diagonally from upper right to lower left.

"We'll Build a Perfect Ship" is like a landscape turned on its side. Two long, narrow pieces hang vertically on the wall side by side, their colors a rough mirror image of the others: gray, dark brown, ochre and cream. "Horse Latitudes," another double work, this one colored a lurid phthalo green, even a has a triangular rooftop not unlike Day's Pick-Up-Sticks tangle of roofs in "Strike Anywhere."

Day and Olivera use quite different media – Day traditional paint on canvas, Olivera more rebellious found objects, resin and wood – to explore similar interests. Both are fascinated by human incursions into the landscape, and in the ways that wilderness is tamed and sometimes destroyed.

A third painter, Juan Enriquez specializes in Mexican-influenced imagery, paintings of figures framed in elaborate tile and tin. But he also uses found objects and linoleum-cut prints to investigate the way the landscape can become politicized.

"Frontera" (border) consists of a large U.S. flag unfurled upside down, with the stars at appearing at lower right. Atop the star's field of blue and the flags stripes of red and white, Enriquez has printed an image of the barbed-wire border fence in black ink. Prickly pears add their thorns to the fence's spikes, and a couple has been split apart by the treacherous barrier. A man stands on one side, impossibly divided from the woman on the right. He can barely see her: her body has vanished into the deep blue of the American flag.

Sculptures by Michael Fadel are also in the show, but were not available for review last week.