In the current election year, media makes much of the notion of "populism". Its roots lie in the belief in the power of regular people and a right to have control over their government rather than a small group of "insiders" or wealthy elite. To place this in an art context, I give you,on one hand, the blue-chip, "elitist" art in the beautiful new galleries of SFMOMA, and, on the other, the "populist" art one sees in Juxtapoz magazine (said to be America's best-selling art magazine) and what you see in the gallery today.
John Yoyogi Fortes' art is populist in the best sense of the concept; it derives from the best of all sources, both high and low brow. In "Hell2Pay" the title work in the exhibition, I see the complexity one sees in (insider) Terry Winter's paintings and the design savvy of (insider) Mary Heilman's "rhythmic abstraction". But there are also the lively, impromptu moves of graffiti, "outsider", "folk" or "naive" art and the modern cartoon. It turns out that Fortes is a sophisticated observer and practitioner of all modern and contemporary visual expressions and he puts this knowledge to highly expressive work in a way that I consider thrilling.
I have viewed John's work for several years, first in an early Sacramento gallery exhibition, later at his former studio at Mare Island and most recently at his Sacramento studio. For this first opportunity to present his work I want to thank Jerry Ross Barrish, SAC Director of Exhibitions for his invitation to serve as guest curator. I also thank Melinda Lightfoot, Janet A. Barker and Julie Lancelle for their administrative work and assistance with the installation of the exhibition.
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