The web is fast replacing reality in human consciousness, and we technophiles generally gain from the new ways to examine and interpret the world. The idea that tools shape brain evolution, or that instrumentality alters mentality, is old hat, of course, but smiling, happy iPod people should not assume that texting/tweeting supplants traditional material- and reality-based art. The mixed-media works by Anna W. Edwards, Martin Webb, and Nanci Price Scoular in depARTure demonstrate anew the virtues of imaginative struggle. David Hockney once theorized (disingenuously, during his photo-mosaic period) that the greater the time spent making an artwork, the better it is; it's a claim as bogus as is its converse. Travel broadens, and the creative journey (or grappling) is half the fun (or pain).
Edwards makes acrylic paintings based on her memories of exploring unfamiliar locales on foot; refracted through contemplation and improvisation, her sensations take abstract form in richly colored atmospheres ("Windswept," "Still Waters," Setting Sun,") pulsing with light and movement. They suggest, variously, surrealism, neo-romanticism, Abstract Expressionism, and color-field abstraction. These are lyrical, spiritualized landscapes in which collaged fragments of paper and cloth hover amid moody clouds or lava flows.
Webb, who grew up in an English mining town and now often works with day laborers, is showing mixed-media (concrete, metal hardware, wood, tile) pieces dealing with the themes of immigration and home: "laborers, forgotten coal miners, and elusive coyotes [the quadrupeds, not the smugglers] caught in fragmented narratives in fragmented landscapes." These physically imposing yet elegant works ("Walgreen," "Depot," "Coyote") depict the contemporary built landscape, rendered with its own raw materials and bedecked with signs and shadows.
Scoular, South African by birth, focuses on immigration, too. Her "Journeys" works — digitally printed photographs on canvas obscured with overlays of acrylic paint — suggest ambiguity and change, but with paradoxical visual authority (Lionel Feininger and J.M.W. Turner come to mind). The recurrent "rusted iron rings and gates, bound to concrete ... [symbolize] the yearning of an immigrant to gain entry, commit and belong ... [to] never go back," to forge "a new context and meaning." Reception with didgeridoo performance by Travis Werner on Saturday, January 23. DepARTure runs through February 13 (along with neon/xenon-plasma light sculptures by Michael Pargett) at Float Gallery (1091 Calcot Pl., #116, Oakland). 510-535-1702 or TheFloatCenter.com