So-called civilization always has its discontents. "'Twas better, once," they intone. "Men were made of gold, not lead; savages were noble; England was a green and pleasant land before the dark satanic mills; and, here in the Bay Area, women wore gloves and everyone wore hats" (if you believe the venerable Caen). It is easy to dismiss such antiquarian grumbling, but the dissidents do have a point; while we generally see the price of progress as justifiable, they mutter at its downsides — as we do, too, every rush hour, as we sputter along, stop — to — stop. For every utopia there is an equal and opposite dystopia.
The oil paintings of Scott Hove at Esteban Sabar Gallery take dead aim at our gearhead culture. Presenting modern mechanized life as a gray maze of churning machines and tangled Piranesian highways that dwarf and stunt natural life, they indict the toxic-stew thinking that's befouled our global nest. Some viewers may recall social satirist Irving Norman's epic scenes of a crushing Orwellian corporate state, while others may think of less scathing but still satirical artworks like Jean Tinguely's self-destroying sculpture, "Homage to New York." Others may discern hints of Fernand Léger's "tubist" robots of the Cubist era, Matta's Duchampian insect-droids, Lam's Picassean voodoo gods, Boris Artzybasheff's machine-humans on Cold War TIME magazine covers, and the demented automated machines alternatively feeding and swallowing Chaplin's Everyman in Modern Times.
Possible antecedents aside, however, Hove's images have an urgent plastic intensity that is both frightening and mordantly funny. "Machine of Endless Sacrifice I" is globalization on rails, a masked, horned juggernaut of smokestacks, tank treads, merciless gears, and threatening sword blades, while "Machine of Endless Sacrifice II" is a titanic spiked mechanical bull with smoke streaming from its cams and levers. "Ship Fighting Its Own Nature" depicts a 19th-century man-of-war, cannons peering from its gun ports, while agonized ghostly allegorical figures spew smoke from eyes, ears, and mouth. "Corinthian Quetzalcoatl" conflates jungle spirit and bulldozer; its bristling upper lip of Roman acanthus leaves and its sharply carved Aztec plumage, more fang than feather, reveal the voracity powering all waste-laying empires. When I'm driving free, the world's my home. Great song, The Who's 1974 "Going Mobile," even if the sentiments are now as dated as Nixon-era gas lines. Through June 24 at Esteban Sabar Gallery (480 23rd Street, Oakland. EstebanSabar.com or 510-444-7411.
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