Myths and Dreams 

Calixto Robles and Alexandra Blum make fantasy real.

Fantasy, American-style, is escapist: fireballs here, animal sidekicks there, and formula everywhere, with characters shrunk to fit spin-off video games and everything smothered in digital gravy. In short, commercial fantasy lacks any underlying reality; worse, no one seems to care. The old joke about the USSR was that everyone had jobs, but fake ones: workers pretended to work and employers pretended to pay. Back in the US of A, our media corporations pretend to entertain us, and we, flattered, go along.

Not all fantasy, however, is as generic as the latest meretricious sequel. SFMOMA's upcoming Frida Kahlo retrospective will immerse us anew in that turbulent painter's darkly beautiful, dangerous subconscious; her ecstatic and painful self-portraits remain what Surrealist André Breton claimed: ribbons tied around bombs. Striking a similar personal chord, but less fraught, are the works of San Franciscans Calixto Robles and Alexandra Blum at the Front Gallery. Combining mythology and folklore with elements of various modernist styles, these artists (who are married) fuse past and present, individual and collective, and objective and subjective.

Robles' oils, prints, and frescoes depict Mesoamerican mythology, employing Expressionist drawing, Cubist layering and simplification, and Abstract Expressionist painterly space. "Jaguar Tezcatlipoca," the Aztec god of obsidian, beauty, strife, and divination, ponders archaic symbols; he might almost be a surrogate for the artist, who clearly has immersed himself in pre-Columbian art in order to reanimate its rematerializing supernatural figures: a striding jaguar, a shaman costumed as a bat, a serpent deity, and a centaur. Even the magic mushrooms known as Teonanacatl, the flesh of the gods, beloved of 1960s musicians and hippies on the epiphany trail, are celebrated here. Motion and metamorphosis pervade Robles' work; figures, symbols, and space are all contingent, elastic, and interchangeable.

Blum, too, is interested in myth, but her work derives from Greek classicism rather than Robles' prehistory. Her brilliantly colored monoprints depict female figures in stylized landscapes, abstracted, patterned, and serenely beautiful. Silhouetted in profile as flat shapes, Blum's heroines resemble Renaissance portraits, early 19th-century cameos, and certain paintings of di Chirico, while their quietism suggests Redon's lyrical pastels of muses and Buddhas. "Huntress" features a female centaur, her buoyant hair like a jet of flame, while "Lucky" features a mermaid, her tail all stripes; other prints offer elegant, playful medusas and minotaurs. Myths and Dreams runs through July 4 at Front Gallery (35 Grand Ave., Oakland). FrontGalleryOakland.com or 510-444-1900.

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