Currently on view at San Francisco’s White Walls Gallery/Shooting Gallery is a quartet of seemingly eclectic shows that both separately and combined create a powerful experience for the viewer. Charmaine Olivia’s collection of oil paintings depicting too-beautiful-to-be-true women with a sense of nostalgia commandeers . Olivia returns to the same subjects she’s used for pieces in past shows with White Walls. The title, Bloom, refers to the transformation both the subjects and Olivia herself have undergone in her career as an artist.
Blood and Ink by Justin Kerson consists of tattoo designs hung on blood-covered, battle-scarred walls in order to explore the process of tattooing—one that involves, as the title suggests, both blood and ink. The exhibition’s presence in White Walls’s project space adds to the experience: the tightness of the space increases the viewer’s queasiness, a perhaps unintended side effect of Kerson’s attempt to immortalize the art of tattooing.
Equally provocative is Sex in Suburbia by Andrea Joyce Heimer. Accompanied by handwritten title/captions such as “The Exhibition on Fir Street Happened Most School Days At Around 3:15PM” or “Since Age 16 My Lovers Never Knew What They Were Getting Into, I’ve Wanted To Consume Their Thoughts, Climb Inside Them, And Utterly Devour Them,” Heimer’s unconventional paintings explore the ways sexuality can affect a neighborhood. From childhood curiosity to adult longing, Heimer captures the full range of the suburban sexual experience (both real and imagined).
These three exhibitions are good. But it is Goddamn by Greg Gossel that really steals the show. Occupying the gallery’s largest space, Gossel’s large, colorful mixed media pieces are hard to miss. But it’s not just their color, size, or their placement that makes them stand out. It’s the knockout content. Gossel layers enlarged screenprinted newspaper images of Native American and civil rights imagery, pop icons including children’s cartoons, and swaths of acrylic, spray paint, and enamel to convey a messy nostalgia. This is not Olivia’s flowered, sun-kissed reminiscence, however. Gossel’s look back is with a critical eye. He tells a story of deep dissatisfaction with contentious race relations, tumultuous power struggles, rampant social injustice, and pervasive loss of innocence present in this country’s history. The loss of innocence comes across particularly strongly, with sad cartoon eyes layered into almost every piece in the exhibition. Juxtaposed with iconic images of once-proud Native American chiefs and African American boxers, the viewer knows why those eyes are sad. It’s hard not to.
All four of these excellent exhibitions make it impossible for the viewer to leave without feeling something. The art at White Walls/Shooting Gallery has done its job.