Carl Dobsky

Carl Dobsky (b. 1972) brings a muted sense of poetry to humble everyday
objects and urban scenes. His fall show at John Pence Gallery in
San Francisco, where the artist recently moved from New York City,
demonstrates both technical skill and individuality. Like many of
today’s accomplished young realists, Dobsky studied at Jacob
Collins’s Water Street Atelier, after stints at the Ringling
School of Art in Florida and the New York Academy of Art. Dobsky
is an excellent still-life painter, bringing grace to the most mundane
of objects through the alchemy of light. Carburetor (2006)
is almost a portrait, the ungainly bit of machinery becoming biomorphic
as it sits on spindly legs in the middle of a wide-planked, stained
white floor. The plebian color palette—dirty white and weathered,
metallic darks—is surprisingly attractive. The detritus of
Chinese Take-Out (2005) is depicted with similar grace.
Touches of red—a Coke can, a couple of firecrackers and the
clichéd pagoda motif on the paper containers—enliven
the composition. The best of the still lifes, however, is Studio
Shelf with Military Bag
(2004), an arrangement of utilitarian
objects with a matte surface that seems appropriate to the plaster
wall, raw wood frame and canvas sack. The play of light and shadow
gives the dull green, collapsed-rectangle bag the presence of a
soft sculpture.

Julia Valdez

Carl Dobsky, Studio Shelf with Military Bag, 2004,
john pence gallery, san francisco

Dobsky tries his hand at a variety of genres: landscapes of terrain
as different as western mesas and the green fields around a Vermont
farm house; figure studies and portraits, such as the striking Portrait
of Michael Hussar
(2006), with its shaved-headed, bearded subject
projecting a Rasputin-like intensity; even trompe l’oeil.
Everything is well executed, although at this stage of his career,
Dobsky still seems to be finding himself. One subject area where
he shows real flair is the cityscape, unpeopled slices of urban
architecture such as On Line (View from Fire Escape), from
2005, with its strong orthogonals. Rooftop views are particularly
effective. In Farewell to New York (2006) watertowers and
low buildings are juxtaposed against the peach light of the sky,
with taller structures reduced to a hazy silhouette in the distance.
Moon Over the Rooftops (Joy), also 2005, is another evocative
composition; the sky that takes up most of picture communicates
a sense of liberation. Dobsky seems to be keeping his options open.

Running concurrently at the John Pence Gallery was an exhibition
of new mixed media collages by Hugh Shurley (b. 1959). The San Francisco
native’s photomontages on metal combine contemporary preoccupations—appropriation,
gender—with an artisan’s patient craftsmanship. Shurley’s
method is palimpsestic. Layers of a transparent image are interleaved
with found objects, shreds of other photographs, historical documents
and personal mementos. Photographic manipulation is as old as the
artform itself, as the artistically doctored photographs of mid-nineteenth-century
pioneers Gustave Le Gray and Henry Peach Robinson attest. Their
juxtaposition of fragments to create an illusionistic if vaguely
disorienting whole suggests both the contemporary Pre-Raphaelites
and the future Surrealists. Shurley, in contrast, achieves layers
of depth but bathes the image in an overall soft patina. The subject
matter is filtered through a gauze of nostalgia not dissimilar to
the Proustian fashion work of Deborah Turbeville. But Shurley’s
diaphanous overlays, wrinkles, stains and smudges give his compositions
a painterly quality. In Firm Stands the Sky (2006) the
half-length figure of a young Adonis, shouldering a life preserver
and gazing into the distance, is superimposed over seascape elements.
(2006) is a haunting still life with three principal elements—andirons,
a ball of twine and an earthenware vase filled with roses—placed
in the shadowy space of a hearth. The palette is muted. The deep
pink of the roses verges on the naturalistic, but the twine’s
golden color clearly emanates from a large trapezoidal patch—calling
attention to the artifice of construction. The plain wooden chairs
and uptilted wheelbarrow of Day of Rest (2006) seem disused,
caught in a backwater of time; the effects of age have been translated
into irregularities of color and shape. Shurley’s iconography
is cryptic and personal, but his priority seems to be aesthetic
contemplation rather than an invitation to decipherment. Still
(2006), a curious composition with bananas parenthetically
framing an ornate chalice, becomes a study in smoky gold and umber.
A teacher, lecturer and author, Shurley has also designed book jackets
for Random House, St. Martin’s Press and Harcourt-Brace. It
is easy to see how his work, with its aura of elusive narrative,
fits into this niche, but in a gallery setting the subtleties of
his surfaces becomes paramount. John Pence Gallery, 750 Post Street,
San Francisco, California 94109. Telephone (415) 441–1138.
On the Web at