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Two Views of the Landscape
Gilbert Amavisca & Joseph Bellacera
at the Pence Gallery


By Paul Dorn
Davis Enterprise art critic

Art review:
A Favored Place: Landscape Paintings
Gilbert Amavisca & Joseph Bellacera
Where: Pence Gallery, 212 D Street, Davis; 758-3370
When: through Mar. 3, 2001
Hours: 12 - 4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday

For sheer visual delight, it would be hard to top "A Favored Place," the current two-person exhibition of landscape paintings by Gilbert Amavisca and Joseph Bellacera at the Pence Gallery in downtown Davis. These are two talented painters who take obvious delight in their medium, and we are the beneficiaries of their fine panoramic confections.

More concerned with mood and atmosphere than exacting representation, both artists bring a mature approach to the landscape image. They took very different paths to their present genre of painting. Oakland native Joseph Bellacera has been the more adventurous, traveling a far-ranging journey from surrealist works inspired by Miro and Kandinsky, through abstract expressionism and experimental formalism, to the landscapes that have been his primary artistic expression for the past decade. Trained at the Massachusetts College of Art, Humboldt State University and UC Santa Barbara, Bellacera has been consistent in creating radiant spaces where forms emerge and dissolve-whatever the ostensible subject matter of his paintings.

Gilbert Amavisca has deep Sacramento roots. After serving in the US Coast Guard in the early 1970s, he returned to study art at Sacramento City College, and later for a brief stint at Brigham Young University. Amavisca's nascent career as an artist was interrupted by familial responsibilities-which ultimately led to his current "day job" as an electrician for the city of Davis-and his artistic efforts were limited to occasional figure drawing endeavors. Only as his children have matured has he begun to seriously pursue his art, which he has been doing with some success since 1988.

With Amavisca, the sum is far greater than the parts. His individual brushstrokes often seem thin, despite his admitted enjoyment of thick textural smears of oil paint. But as an entire composition, his layers of repeated quick strokes build on each other to create a pleasing whole, and the smaller scale of his images contribute to a tight presentation. His "Napa Highway 128," for example, features a shadowy road emerging from the bottom of the image, rolling into the distance, disappearing into the near center of the painting. Rendered in several shades of blue, brown and purple-a thin yellow line down the middle-the road's polychromatic pavement becomes vibrant and energetic, a dynamic element amongst the distant hills and surrounding fields, trees and fence posts.

It is perhaps surprising that Amavisca-a Central Valley resident nearly all his life-draws his principal inspiration from California coastal regions, which he renders with a blue-leaning palette, telephone poles included. However, Amavisca's attraction to less familiar terrain may cause a certain excitement that becomes palpable in his paintings. His "Carmel Valley Cypress," demonstrates this enthusiasm for the exotic. An expansive tree bursts from the scene in quick energetic strokes accented with red flourishes, the background a hazy multi-hued sky with a distant field of yellow, a shaded road in the foreground. How many travelers have passed this seemingly mundane tree with less appreciation than Amavisca?

In contrast to Amavisca's work, Bellacera's paintings present scenes familiar to Davis residents, especially with images such as "In the Distance" or "Farm Road." However, Bellacera is less interested in a setting's PLACE than with its SPIRIT. "Motifs such as land, sky and water lend themselves well to an expression of time passing and the constant flux in life," says Bellacera. "I am concerned with experiencing the essence of a space through its ever-changing color and light."

Provoking comparisons to 19th century English painter J.M.W. Turner-though with less of that luminary's romanticism-Bellacera's works might more accurately be called "skyscapes." With low horizon lines minimizing land features, the focus in Bellacera's work is clearly on the turbulent and energetic sky. The roads, streams and plowed rows of the static land act as a stage for the drama above, where Bellacera creates a multitude of dynamic scenes, playing light and color in a pleasing chiaroscuro.

His "Western Light" is typical of Bellacera's approach, where the muddy foreground-with a remote row of wispy trees and a reflective puddle-act to draw the viewer's attention upward. Menacing clouds looming on the left, combined with a wedge of blue descending down, direct our gaze toward a pale luminescence growing opposite. In this and other works, Bellacera strives to capture something of the setting's emotion, from the darkly frightening, reddish-orange hued "Road Through Green Field" to the lighter, more cheerful "Field and Sky #31." Throughout his work, Bellacera teeters on the edge between representation and abstraction, ranging from the relatively illustrative "Dark Mountain" and "Pistachio Orchard" to the highly abstracted "In the Distance" or "Curving."

These painters are well matched. The humor of Amavisca's intuitive and tactile paint application balances well with the intense drama of Bellacera's more cerebral, whispery strokes. They complement each other to create a strong exhibition not to be missed.

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Last modified March 21, 2001

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