Gideon Bok: Wave
March 5 – April 5, 2019
The explosion of time-based media in the second half of the twentieth century – generally, artwork based in technology and inseparable from a durational dimension – has become synonymous with the sensation of experiencing art as it unfolds, expands, and evolves through the electronic medium of its creation. In these new works, physical dimensions are typically variable, in marked contrast to the ways artworks have been historically described. Yet video-, film-, digital-, or sound-based works, while paralleling the ubiquitous rise of our electronic consumption of information of all kinds, and thus, most immediately relatable in this universe, are not the only ways to stretch time and space.
Gideon Bok, an American painter born and raised in Maine, similarly elasticizes time and space, but through the traditional medium of oil on linen canvas. His subjects are his studio, his home, and his friends and family members, and, as he explores them again and again, his responses to how they evolve chronicle his perceptions of the spaces and how they are filled, providing an experiential interface with the viewer that is not unlike that resulting from works of contemporary time-based media. At the same time, his paintings function as windows into his own developing understanding of where he lives, with whom he shares his life, a and how the passage of time affects all: a record, in his words, of “ongoing engagement” with his days.
Son of a sheep farmer and a composition teacher, Bok is also a musician, and the obviously time-based experience of music – both making it and hearing it – also clearly informs his two-dimensional artworks. As each musical performance is different from the last – and different from the one yet to come – so, too, is each painting of these repeated spaces different: they record the time of day and its corresponding light levels, as well as both the occupancy, or, alternatively, the emptiness, of these rooms, as their very shapes change according to the activity within. These rooms are dense and active – furniture and furnishings move around, friends and family stop by, bottles and residual remnants of snacks clutter the space and then are cleaned up. In the finished works the viewer also sees ghost-like forms: people who were there at one point while Bok was painting, and then were painted out – albeit remembered – after they left, as he continued his work.
In addition to his explorations into time, perception, and perspective, Bok also investigates the materiality of his chosen medium. Some areas of the paintings are thin and transparent; others thick and almost crusty, providing a compelling opacity. These physical differentials underscore his changing perceptions of his world over time as it likewise chronicles the way the medium itself has been treated by different painters across time and space.
“One of the issues specific to painting that interests me,” Bok has commented, “is the idea that the painting is a single static image (or depicted moment of consciousness) that is made up of thousands of moments of consciousness, or thoughts, each represented by a gesture, mark, or impulse on the surface. In this way, painting collapses time in a specific way. The sense of time in the reading of a painted image is up to the viewer, and is probably different for each viewer, but the fact of the time of making the image is different. Even while working quickly, painting is a slow process. Each gesture requires a specific color to be carefully mixed from a combination of others, and impacts and changes all other gestures in the painting by its inclusion. This constantly shifting and delicate balance of visual spatial issues is what makes what would otherwise be a mind-numbingly boring task fascinating. One moment there can be confusion or disorder, but a carefully placed moment of color can suddenly unify or enliven the space in a way that can seem like magic.”
Gideon Bok received his BA from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and his MFA from Yale University, with earlier studies at the New York Studio School, the Portland (Maine) School of Art, and a summer spent in the Studio Arts Centers International painting program in Florence, Italy. He exhibits widely, and his work is included in the permanent collection of the Boston Athenaeum and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, among other esteemed institutions. Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004, Bok is represented by Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects in New York City. He works and lives in Maine.
In conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, Gideon Bok will speak about his work in an illustrated presentation on March 5 from 5-6 pm in Art #133. This presentation and the following opening reception, held immediately afterward from 6 – 7:30 pm, are free and open to the public.
Jo Farb Hernández
Director and Professor,
San José State University
Image Caption (above):
King of Nails, 2006-2010
Oil on linen
80 x 80”
Courtesy Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects, NY
Photo: Dave Clough Photography
Abel Barroso: Upgrading
Born in the small western Cuban city of Pinar del Río in 1971, Barroso, who now lives and works in Havana, studied at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana and was included in Cuba’s official Pavilion during the 2017 Venice Biennale. His work, while developing across different series, consistently explores how global pressures and technologies impact even those individuals who don’t have full access to their potencies. For the Thompson Gallery exhibition, Barroso will showcase two series that have particular resonance in Silicon Valley and California; each reveal his ironical response to their continuing impact on our lives.
Sala de Navegación y Realidad Virtual a la Cubana [Internet Browsing Room and Cuban-style Virtual Reality] revisits and updates one of Barroso’s previous installations, the Third World Internet Café. Reflecting upon the relationship between global and local connectivity, he acknowledges that, almost without our knowledge or permission, globalization has influenced the configuration of our very identities, weaving a web of economic, social, and political interrelationships from which we can’t escape. Barroso takes particular aim at our connections to cyberspace for both social media and commercial purposes, as he creates low-tech computers in wood, replicated at full scale, through which visitors can interact to facetiously access Cuba’s Uber service (UVER) or a find a travel agent with listings of private homes available for tourists during their visits to Cuba. One computer, dedicated to social media, is titled You Have a Friend Request; through another, one can bank online or solicit a travel visa. The application that permits these functions Barroso calls Boogle, a Cuban version of the program known worldwide as Google. The installation will also include Virtual Reality headsets, and the most up-to-date hardware, including tablets with touch technology. All of these devices are part of the Mango Tech system – the low-tech reinterpretation of those technologies more globally known as Apple – representing the technology of the poor, and all constructed in the simple medium of wood.
The second series to be included in Barroso’s Thompson Gallery display centers on political borders. Whether via wall, fence, or signage, boundaries that are conceptualized as a means of separating different peoples in the world are another ongoing theme of Barroso’s work. He approaches this theme from different perspectives, not only referencing the specific geographic space where he lives and works, but, more broadly, any global site in which a community has been created despite being divided by a constructed border. He has commented, “Globalization has accelerated the velocity of the impact of these divisive borders on our own lives, attempting to divide and separate us even if those borders are not physically nearby. Therefore, our own identities become linked with those of others, converting us into citizens of a world without borders.” Works in this series draw attention to humanity’s constant search for natural and unimpeded freedom of movement on a global scale.
Barroso’s early work focused on printmaking, but by the early 1990s he began to add a third dimension to his woodcuts and wood engravings, bringing them off the wall and into the form of sculptural objects. The two series that he will exhibit in San José are united by an emphasis on our sometimes fraught individual relationships with globalized powers and processes, elements that we see play out on a daily basis in Silicon Valley. His crafted images confront massive globalized commercial technologies with their local low-tech versions (e.g., Mango vs. Apple) as they likewise challenge the callousness and insensitivity that greets migrants and immigrants who are searching for their own way to participate in and benefit from these dominant worldwide paradigms, proposing ironic alternative creations that open visitors’ consciousness with ludic delight.
We are most appreciative of the team who helped to crate, ship, and shepherd Barroso’s work through US customs during the current recurrence of difficult relations between Cuba and the U.S., and, in particular, to his gallerist, Michel Soskine in Madrid, who has worked with me for almost two years to bring this project to reality. In conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, Abel Barroso will speak about his work in an illustrated presentation on April 16 from 5-6 pm, in Art #133. This presentation and the following opening reception, held immediately afterward from 6-7:30 pm, are free and open to the public.
Jo Farb Hernández
Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 5-6 pm
Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 6-7:30 pm
Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery
Tuesdays 10 am – 4 pm; 6-7:30 pm
Monday, Wednesday – Friday 10 am – 4 pm and
Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery
Department of Art and Art History
San José State University