There is nothing better (perhaps) than an action packed, art-filled sunny weekend day in San Diego. A recent, particularly memorable Saturday started at the MCASD (Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego), downtown branch. We went to see the Mike Berg show of textiles. Our interest in this show was particularly peaked by our acquisition of a work of his, from this very series, at a benefit auction for the museum last year. On presenting ourselves to the check in desk, already a little short of time, I asked in which of the 2 downtown buildings was the show. The young man at the desk reassured us we were in the right building, and in fact, the man standing just to our right was the artist himself.
“The man with the grey hair.”
There were a few candidates in the immediate vicinity, but a lovely young woman next to me narrowed down the field. She proved to be his daughter.
What a happy accident! We had been bummed to have missed the opening of the show-Steve was on call at the hospital and I had a class that night. I introduced myself, and it was nice to learn the method behind work we’ve been enjoying the past year. Mike and his wife have been living part-time each year in Istanbul, and he works with kilim weavers to produce this series of works. The geometric designs are drawn by Mike, who selects the color palette, but then randomly assigns which color will go in each component of the work.
With that as a fortuitous start, it was off north to pick up Larry and Debra Poteet, proprietors of Beyond the Border Gallery, with whom we planned to go see work by the De La Torre brothers, Einar and Jamex (Jimmy), who they both collect and represent. We stopped en route for fortification-a new favorite sandwich, the Vietnamese barbequed pork sandwich from Pho La Jolla, thinly sliced pork on a baguette, with pickled radish and other crisp veggies.
We made it to the new San Diego Library in time to admire and marvel at the De La Torre’s brothers “lenticular” installations flanking elevators which still were not yet operational 2 months after the library’s opening. What is a lenticular? Wickipedia sums it up well: Lenticular printing is a technology in which lenticular lenses (a technology that is also used for 3D displays) are used to produce printed images with an illusion of depth, or the ability to change or move as the image is viewed from different angles. The De La Torres used this technology to good advantage, creating 2 fantastical scenes, one incorporating penguins, walruses and palm trees in a crazy half-mandala garden, the other with doll’s heads and toy robots (some of which Steve has previously incorporated in his art) in a Metropolis on acid cityscape.
From there, we were off to Glashaus in Barrio Logan, an artist’s studio collective in a repurposed industrial building, for a glass sculpting demonstration. Einar and Jimmy prepared their materials with Kathleen Mitchell, who opened this glass hotshop a mere 3 months ago, after a long stint at UCSD’s now closed Crafts Center. This gave us a few minutes to say hello to Wendy Maruyama, the noted artist and art furniture professor from SD State, working next door assembling a giant geometric elephant head. Two completed versions adorned the walls, part of a series of 5 planned to heighten awareness of the threatened status of elephants, still targeted for their ivory tusks. I had really admired a large work she had done, called Executive Order 9066, so it was an honor to meet her in person. The installation consisted of 10 huge suspended “trees” of papertags, a tag for each Japanese American interned during WW II, each of the 10 suspensions representing one of the camps.
The glass sculpting began with Einar dipping a metal rod into a vat of molten glass, then transporting the small adherent blob of glass to an adjacent metal table, where it was shaped, rolled into colored glass specks, and gradually enlarged and shaped until big enough to be blown into the size of a small skull. This was progressively shaped with metal tools, forming an occipital prominence. The face was articulated with additions of shaped round eye glass blobs, dipped into an iris pattern of radiating lines. A mouth was formed with the addition of an elongated blob of glass, backed with white glass bits, then articulated into separate lips and then individual teeth with indentations of a linear tool.
The skull kept evolving into a more and more baroque creation, with additions of curvilinear decorations, an elaborate cock’s comb-like headdress, spinal knobs, and finally, Einar wrote “Barrio Logan” by melting thin glass rods onto the forehead. Throughout this process, Jimmy, Einar and Kathleen moved in a deliberate, smoothly choreographed dance to and from the glory hole, neatly avoiding injuring each other and the increasingly elaborate piece.
A videographer from Art Pulse TV showed up, Saulo Cisneros, and Steve, I and Saulo dodged each other for the best shooting angles. The party was further enlarged as more friends materialized by chance: Deborah Klochko, MOPA director (with whom we were traveling in Mexico just a few weeks before) and her husband, painter Gary Singer, and photographic artist Josue Castro and his wife Rosa.
Altogether, it was nothing short of magic, alchemy really, fire and colored sand tranformed with skill and care and imagination into a Dia de los Muertos worthy calavera. It was a blast witnessing it.
When the finished piece was safely ensconced for the night in the annealing oven, hopefully to cool gradually without cracking, we left for the De La Torre’s San Diego studio for libations and to see more work, before heading to dinner at Romesco’s, the Bonita outpost of the famed Tijuana restauranteur family, the Plascencias. The original Caesar salad can be traced to an uncle of this family, which has multiple restaurants in Tijuana, including Caesar’s and the famed gastronomic destination, Misíon 19. We had a wonderful meal, including chile en nogadas, which I had so loved in Mexico City, beef short rib and tongue tacos, even limpets, accompanied by a delicious tempranillo from Vinisterra in Valle de Guadalupe. It was a delicious end to an enriching day.