Some artists work in fastidious repetition, creating works that rarely deviate from whatever prescribed formula they've set for themselves. Ananda Oliveri is not one of those artists. He freely admits that his work is all over the place, recklessly mixing materials and wrestling with different formats. It's no surprise then that his new show, "The Universe Unfolded," defies a clean-cut, easily categorized explanation. Origami cootie catchers transform into angular objects of unknown origin. Precise ink-on-paper drawings explode with vibrant rotating triangles. Spray paint, mirrors and Plexiglas abound. The sheer variety of work on display raises the question of why this work covers so much creative ground.
In his studio overlooking Chapala Café in Old Town, Oliveri muses on the theme of his show, saying, "We are always undergoing change." His frizzy hair matches the scruffy goatee reaching down to his sweater. Geese and seagulls squawk in background. "Generally folks don't know how proactive they are in affecting that change for themselves," he continues. The works in this show represent Oliveri's attempts at understanding his own sense of transformation over time. He believes that if we don't create change for ourselves, other elements will do it for us. Waxing poetic, he digs right to the core of his philosophy: "Few build themselves into what they are. Most are eroded into who they are."
A regular in Eureka's Old Town art scene for over 10 years, Oliveri has had more opportunities than most to influence the world around him. Together with his wife Phyllis, he co-owned the Accident Gallery, a famed Arts Alive! hangout, for more than six years. The gallery continues, mainly as a venue for graffiti supplies, but he and his wife Phyllis have moved on, opening the Siren's Song Tavern, also in Old Town. Stir into the mix Oliveri's studio in the C Street Studios building (right above the Accident Gallery), and you've got a man who's got Old Town covered.
Oliveri and his assorted artistic styles settle comfortably into Old Town's mash-up of the trendy, the retro, the historic and the slimy chic, all of which seems to have sunk into his schema, coloring the intimate narrative that underlies the new work on display in "The Universe Unfolded."
Not wanting to give away too much, Oliveri is selective about explaining where his inspiration comes from. The storyline behind the work is set in the not-too-distant future in the fictional, ancient Middle-Eastern city of Zaqaziq. In this post-futuristic world, machines have become self-aware, something physics experts call a "post-singularity event." Oliveri explains, "It's the point past which predictions can't be made as to what will happen." Most people default to scary Matrix or Terminator scenarios, but Oliveri is more optimistic. "Kids are self-aware," he reminds us, "and we teach our kids. So you would hope that we would teach other intelligences not to destroy or be assholes."
Zaqaziq inhabits the future but is informed by the past. Like Old Town, it's not all gleaming robots and hovercrafts, but it's not all horses and buggies, either. This cultural milieu tumbling about in Oliveri's mind — its geography, unpredictability, inhabitants — makes for a fertile breeding ground for ideas. "I've created this narrative and the work fits into the narrative, but the work doesn't necessarily explain the narrative to the audience." The story may not be obvious, but clearly Zaqaziq is a hotbed of change, and this theme of transformation is perhaps the most tangible element to the show.
Take for example "Change is Inevitable." In this large mixed-media work on paper, a late-70s era coupe is angled down in the bottom left corner. Drawn with exacting fine-line work, the car's vertically striped grill and bumper are dented in, the hood and passenger side door wrinkled and askew. A body-sized hole in the windshield exposes the gleam of a steering wheel, but also emits an expanding array of colorful triangles. Some align almost like paper airplanes, others flit about alone. They all grow in size toward the upper right corner of the piece, becoming transparent and hazy as they go. It's as if the soul of an accident victim is escaping, ascending and taking on a new form. The technicality of the piece and the large expanses of blank paper keep the materials in the forefront, but the change is palpable.
Elsewhere in the show, Oliveri offers up his unrivaled Plexiglas skills with pieces that highlight its transparency. Some pieces pile on as many as 15 layers, creating three-dimensional works from two-dimensional surfaces. His use of moiré patterns — layers of lines that continually form trippy, changing shapes — is especially effective, simultaneously pushing the boundaries of painting and sculpture.
Other Plexi pieces are more familiar to fans of Oliveri's work, but this time there's a twist. Using his self-developed stencil and spray paint technique, Oliveri carefully paints onto the back of a piece of Plexiglas. One color at a time, he fills in small lines or broad expanses, layering the shades in just the right order so that when he flips the piece over, the colors are crisply delineated. In a new series of six works depicting the citizens of Zaqaziq, mirrors lay behind the Plexiglas, reflecting the viewer and everyone else in the room. The effect is engaging, if not slightly disconcerting, and will be especially striking on a crowded Arts Alive! evening as everyone in the room suddenly becomes part of the work.
Be a part of the crowd, meet the artist and transform yourself into a post-singularity citizen Saturday at Eureka's Arts Alive! A reception will be held at HSU's First Street Gallery from 6-9 p.m.