Fay Grundvig and Beth Grundvig at The Artery
By Paul Dorn
Davis Enterprise art critic
Fay Grundvig, Beth Grundvig
Where: The Artery
207 G Street, Davis; 758-8330
When: through Apr. 3, 2001
Hours: 10 am - 6 pm, Monday through Saturday
10 am - 9 pm, Friday; 12 - 5 pm, Sunday
An interesting conversation is happening through April 3 in the gallery at The Artery. Fay Grundvig and her daughter Beth Grundvig are both accomplished artists who present differing artistic approaches to the landscape, though both mater and filia are more interested in textures, moods and colors than they are in scene. Though each starts in a different place, both share a desire for open space, air and light and uncluttered nature.
Davis resident and longtime Artery member Fay Grundvig is known best for her previous abstract and impressionistic monoprints. Her new work is a departure, creating more representational oil-on-paper images of idyllic imaginative landscapes. Beth Grundvig, who studied at UC Davis for a year before completing her studies at the Parsons School of Design in New York, now has a home and studio in Oakland and illustrates for several publications.
If there's a consistent theme to Beth Grundvig's edgy urban scenes, it's the sense of unease they convey. Something isn't exactly "right" in the scenes she portrays, there's a vague longing, a desire for something unidentifiable, a dissatisfaction with the absence of natural surroundings-the need is apparent, if not its satisfaction. Subtle shifts in the viewing plane within Grundvig's images create this mood, which is further developed through her composition-the selection of scene, perspective, color and shape.
Her three "Sky" images are typical of this theme, offering glimpses of atmosphere framed by urban buildings. A flat blue sky surrounds a brick building in "Sky I," which Grundvig shapes using an extreme perspective that "sharpens" the roofline corner into a triangular shape. The structure stabs into the sky, obliterating and obscuring our enjoyment of space. Grundvig gives the bricks a dense, colorful texture, suggesting a reflected sun-drenched warmth, originating beyond our view. "Sky II" shows an irregular chunk of sky, shaped by two neighboring buildings, punctuated by a fire escape and a television antennae; "Sky III" features a golden rainbow arched above the cornice and fire escape of the building. Throughout the entire "Sky" series, Grundvig maintains a tight, close view, which detaches the scene from its surroundings, focusing our attention on the missing element in urban areas: space.
Beth Grundvig's strongest work is "South Wall Exposed," which presents the sort of construction scene city residents are encountering often these days. Pedestrians in professional attire stroll briskly past a building rising several stories above, oblivious to the renovation happening behind the cloth-shrouded scaffolding and a high blue wall (just ripe for tagging.) Rendered by Grundvig with great colorful energy, the covering glows with reflected sunlight while hiding the implied displacement taking place within, like the scene of a crime. Old tenants booted out, more lucrative renters hustled in after a bit of gussying up. Grundvig's tightly crowded image is suggestive of gentrification, globalization, immiseration, depravation-among the seemingly unstoppable suprahuman forces transforming our cities, making them more hospitable to commerce than habitation.
This "world defined by structures" theme, constricted if not quite claustrophobic, appears again in Grundvig's "Skylights," which shows a neatly spaced row of clear glass bubbles receding away on a light gray plank rooftop. In the distance we can see an ocean-going ship plying a channel, past several white oil tanks nestled amidst low forested hills. Above all is a big beckoning sky, thin clouds floating leisurely past. The perspective lines formed by the roof's neat surface resemble the launching deck of an aircraft carrier, directing us outward and upward to greater expanses of light and air. The view offers a bird's perspective, metaphorically suggesting flight, escape, transcendence from a refinery blighted neighborhood. (Or, perhaps, to hitch aboard the sea-bound freighter.)
A more intimate allegorical narrative occurs in Beth Grundvig's wintery "Night Tree." We see a night scene featuring a leafless tree surrounded by a nearly empty parking lot, an island of life in a vast expanse of asphalt, assaulted by the stark cobra lights above. The tree's closest companion is a parked sedan, awaiting its hard-working driver. What grand ambitions (or pink-slip fears) could explain the absent driver's remaining late at the office hours after nightfall? Grundvig offers other intriguing views of contradictory urban life with "Post Street," where a drainpipe and fire escape block our view of the lifeless street scene below; and "Kitchen Window," where the reflected view from the reflections in the neighboring building's windows reveal more life than we see directly.
Fay Grundvig's work is doubtless more familiar to Davis audiences. Inspired by California's landscapes, Fay imaginatively recasts mountain, seaside and meadow scenes to create lyrical, rhapsodic images that evoke a desire for an idealized natural Eden. With its abstracted perspective, great contrast and fine edge, "Dune" is her most successful work, conveying the restlessness of windblown sand and the timelessness of sun-drenched deserts. Fay's quiet, contemplative and accessible work provides an interesting counterpoint to the urgency and metaphorical depth of her daughter Beth's work, a familial contrast of aesthetic styles that results in a fascinating exhibit.