The beach is filled with people and objects as far as the eye can see, and in Guy Colwell's enormous 6' x 7' oil painting Litter Beach we can pick out individual things for miles: dozens of glistening bodies painted in sensuous detail; barbecue grills, beach blankets, Diet Coke cans, a laptop computer -- in fact, a carpet of junk floating on a sea of garbage. And off in the distance, past the "Swimming Prohibited" warning sign, offshore oil rigs. First we look at the bodies -- some 75 fully detailed figures, from kids with candy to bikini babes -- and then we notice the pollution. After standing in front of the painting a few minutes, drinking it all in, the trash overwhelms everything else. As artist Colwell puts it, "It's a beach so crowded no sand is visible, with water so polluted no swimming is possible."
Litter Beach took Colwell about seven years to complete. He began it on the street in front of Cody's Books on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue (one of his favorite hangouts), stored it in a basement for a while, and finally finished it four months ago. It now hangs in Colwell's four-year-old storefront studio and gallery in the Berkeley flatlands, Atelier 9 (www.atelier9.com ), and is the focal point of Colwell's one-man show, "Overflow," a title that accurately describes the fifty-seven-year-old Oakland-born painter's oeuvre.
Colwell, who was part of the Bay Area underground comics wave of the '70s (he did the erotic series Doll), eventually applied his taste for ripe, stylized human figures (he admits to a fondness for Hieronymus Bosch) to a number of socially conscious pieces, including a People's Park scene called Food Not Bombs (1994) and a classical mural in the Caffe Mediterraneum. These days, his interest has turned green. "I have a long history of doing social-issue paintings," says Colwell, "but lately I've been sliding over to man's inhumanity to the planet." Litter Beach represents the "worst" of both those worlds, a carnival of flesh spoiling the earth. "Overflow" opens Saturday, October 12 (reception 6-10 p.m.) and runs through October 19.
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