Esteban Sabar has offered up his back room to Derek Weisberg, half of the former Boontling Gallery, for this group show of local artists, "A Bahl Beemsh Part 2." The works are more or less aimed toward explorations of the human figure; we're greeted with an odd array of portraits, human, and homunculus. The figure has, of course, been a shibboleth for art and its audience: Manet's Olympia, Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, the total absence of form or figure of the abstract expressionists, the repetition of Warhol's celebrity prints. How the figure is portrayed tells us everything about where art is, and what we want (or don't want) from it. These works are largely eerie, uncanny portrayals of the human — or human-ish — form. Whatever it is we want to look at when we view these, it's not a calming reassurance, a gentle beauty, a quick giggle. If we are to extrapolate, we might surmise that we want art to give us a little glimpse of the anxiety buzzing all around us.
Angie Brown's oils are the most traditional of the form, chunks of rich color composing faces and shoulders glowing in a warm light. Mike Lay's nearby works are, on the other hand, decomposed almost into oblivion; faces that have become alien, rashes of layered paint. They are almost in exact opposition to Kevin Earl Taylor's richly detailed paintings and drawings. After presents three cowl-shrouded figures — two human, one animal — while two dripping skeletal figures wander in the background. Taylor's drawings often feature human figures with the heads of rats and cats — an even darker Spiegelman. Dan Lewis gives us domestic portraits of mostly unhappy folk. A woman in a backyard pool looks as if she's about to drown herself as her beseeching husband looks on; two parents hold their limp child at arm's length, observing it with unhappiness or bewilderment. Michael Eli and Savanna Snow's collaborative works are mostly painted on chalkboard black, half-materialized figures of shamans or professors or homeless men wandering in from the cold. "Bahl Beemsh" gives us figures that could have been painted no time but now. Through January 14 at Esteban Sabar (480 23rd St., Oakland). EstebanSabar.com or 510-444-7411.
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