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Davis, California

Friday, June 14, 2024

Michael Stevens at the Pence Gallery

Local artist showcases his adolescence through three-dimensional craftsmanship

The Pence Gallery in Downtown Davis is showcasing the work of local artist Michael Stevens in an exhibit titled “Against the Grain” from now until Apr. 3. Stevens has held over 100 art exhibitions and received several awards for his work, such as the Distinguished Service Award from the CSU Sacramento Alumni Association and the Individual Artist Fellowship from the California Art Council. Stevens also has public art commissions across northern California.  

The exhibition features three-dimensional pieces that mesh children’s toys with images relating to the 1950s, the era Stevens grew up in. Natalie Nelson, the Pence Gallery Director, explained why Stevens is a good fit for the gallery.

“Michael Stevens is a well-recognized presence in our region, and he has shown widely in California and beyond since the 1980s,” Nelson said. “He approached the Pence [Gallery] with the idea of showing some of the mixed media work that he’s been working on for the past seven or so years.”

Stevens has been an active member of the California art community since the 1970s. The Pence Gallery seeks to support local artists because it is part of their mission to serve the community — their intended audience.

“Our audience for this show has been a mixture of fans of his work, largely from Sacramento and beyond, and our common mixture of UC Davis students, Davis residents and school groups,” Nelson said. “We had about 10 classrooms visit and do art inspired by Mike’s work. The kids love his sense of humor!”

Some question the relationship between an artist and their art and whether there is one at all. Stevens uses the art in this exhibition as a channel to comment on political and societal issues.

“Our intent is always to let the artist connect directly, through their work and in their artist talks, with the public,” Nelson said. “Michael’s work has a lot of social and political commentary in it, and we hope that the humor and sarcasm of the pieces open people up to deeper conversations about power and privilege in our society. Many people talk about his work as only being about childhood, since he uses kids’ toys in his work, but I don’t agree. The toys disarm people, and frighten them at times!”

As always, reactions are varied.

“Most people love the show and know his work well,” Nelson said. “Other people are really disturbed by the objects that are associated with destructive force, such as carved knives, axes, ice picks and hammers. I always think that nothing is as it seems in his work; it’s not about condoning violence, nor arguing against it. It’s about the subtle ways that violence creeps into our lives, through TV, movies and even our toys.

Regardless of the political stance his work presents, there is plenty to appreciate about Steven’s dedication to his craft — a level of dedication that even his critics can appreciate.

The Pence Gallery is located in Downtown Davis at the intersection of Second and D Streets. It is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Written by: Josh Madrid – arts@theaggie.org


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