Gallery 9 displays talents of Bay Area painter in new exhibition of artwork
The Santa Clara
April 12, 2018
Sometimes, it’s the little things that count. In the seemingly impenetrable world of fine arts, a certain pretension seems to cast a pall upon even authentic and self-aware works.
Bay Area resident Steve Curtiss goes against the grain. For this month, Curtiss’ “Still Off Center” exhibit is showing at Gallery 9 in Los Altos. He prefers to inject childlike fun into his works, contrasting what he considers stereotypical stale, pretentious tropes. Filling the cozy gallery space with bright hues and whimsical animals, Curtiss’ paintings are breezy and—I mean this in a good way—gleefully sophomoric.
Consider his painting “Don’t Take That Call.” The piece depicts a lion attacking a monkey who is distracted by his Blackberry. A similar painting, commissioned by the California State Senate in 2011 upon Curtiss’ 11th District Artist of the Year honor, shows a mob of meerkats in neckties carrying briefcases— titled “Attorneys in the Wild.” The social commentary that these paintings provide is readily apparent. However, their wide-eyed kitsch is so likeable that I couldn’t help but appreciate their absurdity. The joke is played with a convincingly straight face as well; these would be solid if uninspired wildlife portraits on their own, but Curtiss’ coyish twists make them funny and wholesome.
Elsewhere in the exhibit, Curtiss emulates the styles of prominent painters. In a series entitled “Artist’s Cats,” famous paintings are recreated with a cute addition—cats, apparently Curtiss’ favorite animal. “Degas’ Cat” features the pet hilariously grooming itself next to one of Edgar Degas’ famous ballerinas, the former almost mimicking the latter’s arabesque. Monet’s cats are hungrily eyeing a frog resting on the oft-painted lily pads of his garden, and Edvard Munch’s iconic “The Scream” becomes “The Screen,” wherein a pet owner is captured in surprise after his cat jumps into his window screen.
One of the exhibit’s more biting pieces serves as a sort of art criticism via paint. Taking aim at the “Painter of Light” Thomas Kinkade—QVC mainstay and “kitsch master” himself, as one critic labeled him—is a landscape done in Kinkade’s sugary-sweet style featuring a man being taken to a cop car in handcuffs. Curtiss dubs it again, mincing no words, “The Painter of Lite is Finally Arrested for Impersonating an Artist.” While this may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, I find Curtiss’ endeavors more down to earth and self-aware than Kinkade’s consumerist secretions.
It speaks to Curtiss’ technical skills that he is able to work so well in these other artists’ styles while still maintaining an atmosphere that is wholly his own. He keeps things decidedly lightweight and playful. Another series of still lifes portrays not just traditional fruits and candles, but also modern day touches to absurd effect, like power tools and Metamucil. How well these tongue-in-cheek gestures will fare with the viewer may vary, but I for one found them delectable. It’s refreshing to see a working artist shed pretension and refuse to take himself so seriously.
With “Still Off Center,” Steve Curtiss shows us his whimsical take on the world. His pieces function as painted criticism, finding timeless beauty in consumer products and questioning societal absurdities all the same.
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