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Café Society
Paintings by Michael Pollard at Mishka's Cafe


By By Paul Dorn
Enterprise art critic

Art review:
Michael Pollard
Where: Mishka's Cafe
514 Second Street, Davis; 759-0811
When: through Apr. 28
Hours: Monday - Friday, 7:30 am - 11:30 pm
Saturday - Sunday, 8:30 am - 11:30 pm

The café has been a critical, if undervalued, factor in the development of modern culture. Any social trend depends on groups of people getting together and sharing ideas: around a campfire, at the hearthside, in a classroom, over a cup of coffee. Is it any coincidence that the Renaissance in Europe emerged almost simultaneously with the introduction-through the Turkish Ottoman Empire-of coffee on the continent?

In contemporary society, the local coffee shop often serves as a surrogate living room for youthful residents of group homes, as a convenient discussion site for grouplets of intellectuals, artists and cultural radicals, as a post-event destination for talkative performing arts patrons, as a neutral meeting ground for blind dates. The café does more than dispense tasty caffeinated beverages: it serves as a refuge for communication.

And certainly a big part of the communication process in café culture involves visual artists. With a less sterile atmosphere than stark white-walled galleries and cheaper admission than museums, the café offers relaxed comfort for the casual enjoyment of visual expression. Often the art found in cafés is more daring, more experimental and, yes, sometimes even more juvenile than art found in other venues. It's a mixed bag. Davis café patrons have been subjected to a lot of mediocre art; but also the occasional standout, such as Aaron Crabtree's recent well-crafted homage to Tamara de Lempicka at the Third Street Café Roma.

Through the end of April, Mishka's Café in downtown Davis presents acrylic-on-paper paintings by Michael Pollard. Local residents and coffee drinkers may be familiar with Pollard's work, which has been seen here in previous café exhibits as well as the Pence Gallery's Community Hang-Up shows the past three years. Pollard is a recent BFA graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, where he is also currently pursing an MFA.

Reflecting that school's emphasis on expression before technique, Pollard's work resembles the aesthetic product of a meat-grinder fed equal parts Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Williams, with perhaps a dash of R. Crumb. It's bright, funny, energetic and different. Looking at his work, you sense a child-like glee in smearing paint.

"My work is tempered by a mind warped at an early age by television, cartoons, superhero comic books, abstract art, loud music and my sarcastic sense of humor," says Pollard. "It's a reflection and goofy look at the life and times of today's world, capturing hopes, fears, dreams, love and my surroundings."

Using aggressive improvisational brush strokes and a strong palette of primary colors, Pollard regurgitates partially digested cartoon characters and other pop culture imagery onto painted surfaces, to create a distinctive autobiographical critique of our age of irony. Is there a "theme" to Pollard's work? Well, maybe that there are multiple meanings to a smile beyond happiness, that it's a small move from a grin to a grimace. Almost all of Pollard's paintings feature smiling characters, suggestive of the phony grins required in our "service-first, customer-is-always-right" mercantile age.

Consider Pollard's "Super Waiter," an appropriate work for a café art show. Pollard presents a food server standing gallantly, decked out as super hero, a bright yellow baseball cap-brim backward, of course-with a blue suit, red cape and yellow chest emblem. How often have we encountered a waiter or waitress ("waitron"?) who wasn't really an aspiring painter, actor screenwriter or game show contestant? Pollard's "Super Waiter" suggests a waitperson's visual day dream, heroically bearing a cappuccino on his tray, wielded aloft like a mythical shield, brimming with superhero powers, a tool for saving the world-or for satisfying a patron's thirst, which may seem like planetary salvation to some anxious coffee consumers. The image is humorous and satiric and self-mocking all at the same time, a commentary on the grand delusions and other defense mechanisms we use to make our mundane lives bearable.

With its grinning, green-faced, yellow-cap topped character (in sunglasses, natch) in front of a small blue patch and wide red and white stripes, Pollard's "Ugly American" suggests the smug self-satisfaction of the proud nationalist, who knows or cares little about the world beyond the reach of his flag. Pollard's more accessible portraits-of his wife Celeste and the profile featured in "Female Nude Mallard Style"-feature enigmatic expressions just short of smiles. Pollard occasionally incorporates actual comic book pages into his mixed media works, such as "Pink Mallard 99" with its black-and-orange San Francisco Giants' cap-wearing grinning character, who seems to have literally ingested cartoon characters.

Pollard's work may provoke the question: What's the difference between childish scribbling and "art"? To which Pollard replies: Who cares? Why be trapped in reverential awe to concepts of "form" or "color" or "composition"-man, that stuff's for pedants. If painting ain't fun, why do it? Right? Congratulations to Pollard for rejecting self-absorbed "seriousness," for resisting academic theoreticians who wring all the joy out of artistic creation.

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Last modified March 22, 2001

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