Renée Castro and Ken Davis explore time and place in The Lost Isle of Neptune, an homage to Neptune Beach Amusement Park, an Alameda fixture from 1917 to 1939 featuring carnival rides, freak-show entertainment, dances, overnight lodgings, and two outdoor swimming pools that attracted athlete-entertainers like Johnny Weissmuller (Hollywood's Tarzan) and Jack LaLanne, the health guru, now 96, who once swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge while pulling, via a strap held between his teeth, a loaded barge. Local old-timers will appreciate the tannin of affection and nostalgia wafting from these works; younger viewers will enjoy the mild acidity of contemporary irony.
Castro's elegant drawings and paintings conjure an alt-universe sideshow in which young women play with costumes, props, and identities. Their erotic-exotic allure suggests Symbolist femmes fatales and Surrealist disheveled muses, albeit weirdly adorned with Mickey Mouse/Princess Leia hairdos and 1930s fashion finery. The heroine of "En Los Sueños" peers over her tattooed shoulder at us, her tresses festooned with butterflies, flowers, and a snake. "Neptuni," presumably the park's star attraction," sports bee-stung lips, a floral choker, epaulettes, heart-shaped pasties, and a piratical eye patch. "Aviator" and Luchadora" feature play-acting heroines in masks and helmets.
Where Castro focuses on the construction of identity, Davis investigates how design, typography, and context determine textual meaning. An expert with traditional sign-painter's One-Shot enamel, Davis works with scavenged metal, glass, and wood that already exude history, creating signifiers for nonexistent signifieds. "The Wild Years" suggests both the Old West and the New Left eras. The untitled installations — comprising thirteen independent lettered signs ("The Heads Will Roll," "So-So," "Too Many Winters," "Surf Combat," "Mutiny"), or eleven fingers pointing up, down, left, and right, or miscellaneous letters (with airbrushing by Bart Fescura) — resist any definitive interpretation.
Alas, Autobody is the latest casualty of the recession. Owner Jacqueline Cooper, just back from an exciting trip to Art Miami, says that she, co-owner Colin Herrick, and director Amy George are moving on to other projects and interests. They'll still be around in other guises, however, running the rental gallery space and studios, and involved with art and music (and consulting); George will be curating for Oakland's Amor Eterno Tattoo Shop. Come by for a low-key good-bye ("a day-long open bar") and lingering finish on Saturday, January 22. The Lost Isle of Neptune runs through January 28 at Autobody Fine Art (1517 Park St., Alameda). 510-865-2608 or AutobodyFineArt.com
Step Right Up to Autobody Fine ArtThe gallery's farewell show invokes Alameda's past.