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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Nelson Gallery unveils three new exhibits

While students were busy cramming for finals and ignoring the world outside of their heavy books and notes, the Richard L. Nelson Gallery was busy preparing the opening of three new exhibits.

On Mar. 18, the Nelson Gallery debuted three new collections – two of which feature the artists Nayland Blake and Owen Smith, and the third displaying 18th and 19th century British satirical prints. The Blake and Smith exhibitions can be viewed in the main gallery of the Nelson, while the 18th and 19th century prints are on display in the Entryway Gallery.

Common themes run throughout the three exhibits, which intend to show various aspects and versions of illustration’s original form. Renny Pritikin, director of the Nelson Gallery and Fine Art Collection, commented on the selection process.

“After I picked Smith’s work, I started thinking about what might be a good juxtaposition to his colorful work,” Pritikin said. “I read through [Blake’s] blog, and then suddenly, a light bulb went on. I figured out that illustration and cartooning had similar origins.”

Nayland Blake

The Nayland Blake exhibition is a collection of Blake’s autobiographical cartoon-like sketches and drawings from his blog that Blake updates almost daily. This is the first ever “offline” compilation of Blake’s images, as the finished products are only available online.

“These cartoons were produced digitally,” Pritikin said. “Many artists are now turning to the digital as a primary canvas for their work.”

The character which he uses to represent himself is a mix of philosophical being and Yogi Bear, a style that blatantly pokes fun at himself.

The original black and white drawings will be on view. The colored digital images, from a CD provided by the artist, are shown as a slide show on two LCD screens.

Blake is a well-regarded artist, writer and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. His work is included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum of Harlem, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, among others. His mixed-media work has been variously described as disturbing, provocative, elusive, tormented, sinister, hysterical, brutal and tender.

“The diary-like nature of Blake’s blog and cartoons are sweet, poignant and smart,” Pritikin said.

The Nayland Blake exhibit will be open to the public at the Nelson Gallery until May 23.

Owen Smith

The work of Bay Area artist Owen Smith may not seem to fit in the current decade, but his recent drawings and paintings in pulp-fiction ’30s-styled realism set Smith’s work apart from the generic high art crowd.

“Smith is an illustrator who is very successful on a national scale.” Pritikin said. “His work is dramatic, expressive, intense and full of action and energy.”

Smith’s award-winning illustrations have appeared in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire and Business Week, as well as on wine bottles, mint cases and kids’ books.

The featured works are many originals of his cover art. His exhibition will also feature pieces commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission for various projects such as the mosaics in the Leguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco and for the Art on Market Street collection.

“We invited Owen to develop a proposal for the series based on his past artwork, much of which implies a story or dramatic situation,” said Judy Moran, senior public art project manager for the San Francisco Arts Commission.

For the series, he created six designs based on Dashiell Hammett’s classic San Francisco novel The Maltese Falcon.

“Owen painted six colorful, expressive images with characters from the novel, as well as a poster with a portrait of Dashiell Hammett himself,” Moran said.

Smith’s portrait of Brigid, a main character in The Maltese Falcon, won a Silver Medal from the publication “Creative Quarterly” and was also selected for Illustrators 51, a book and gallery exhibition at the Society of Illustrators in New York.

All of the paintings from Art on Market Street and roughly a dozen other illustrations and images will be on display until May 23.

18th and 19th century British satirical prints

This smaller show, juxtaposed to the two larger exhibitions in the gallery, features the works of caricaturists George Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson and several others.

These 200 year-old prints showcase early cartooning as a form of social commentary and self-expression. These early satirical prints were meant to comically portray people and situations of interest, as well as provide exaggerated yet knowingly critical historical documentations of the people and events.

“Humor is amazingly culturally specific,” said associate history professor John Smolenski. “So, satirical prints can be very relevant historically. In some cases, the odder or stranger the print seems, the more useful it can be in helping us learn about the artist or audience.”

For more information, visit nelsongallery.ucdavis.edu.

ANASTASIA ZHURAVLEVA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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