I've been looking forward to this show for weeks. An exhibit of Bucknall's work last year proved him to be a master when it comes to technique, the use of fine brushes, and classic European composition; he's as technically astute a living painter as I've ever seen. And D Berman has paired him with conceptual and mixed-media artist Bale Creek Allen, whose work is of a completely different nature: varied common materials and a white, pure wit. While it might appear to be an odd combination, Bucknall's technique is so tight and polished level that it would be unfair of Berman to pair him with another painter.
As you walk into the gallery, the long wall on the right calls out with bright color. Bucknall's palette is high-keyed; the lights go all the way up to lime green and fluorescent "safety orange." The personality of the color range brings to life the archaic subject matter: figures in dress taken from Elizabethan English portraits and 19th-century photographs, but with animal heads. These are fantasy paintings made believable through the artist's sure hand, strange coloring, and amazing technique. Paintings like these reflect a peaceful man actively creating his own reality.
One work, Ripeness Is All, features a grinning monkey dressed to kill in white ruffles posed over a solid black background. The figure has delicate pale pink hands, each resting on an ornate knife handle – one at the hip. His costume is Elizabethan with fancy collars and a gold-trimmed black vest offset by a white codpiece and puffy pants over tights. Considering the time one can spend examining the details of the monkey's clothing, it's easy to understand why Bucknall's work is included in the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art. The monkey's big black eyes and grinning face directly engage the viewer, and Bucknall's matte-finish painting surfaces are as smooth as digital prints.
In stark contrast to the smooth fantasy of Bucknall's animal works is the rough, wry conceptualism of Creek's sculpture and paintings. Weapons of Mass Construction is a hammerhead with its leveraging handle replaced by a curvy, dysfunctional, hand-whittled piece of wood. It is a simple and timely comment, typical of Allen's humor and signature variation of materials. The iconic Jesus Christ in East L.A. features a gold-leafed image of a beautiful, blond Jesus with a teardrop tattoo and a blue cholo bandana tacked roughly onto his head. Creek's nimble mind seems to leap from politics to religion to family to art history in rapid bounds. It takes guts to hang a piece like Gold Painting next to the realism of Bucknall. It is a cynical painting with a deliberately cheesy and primitive technique. A close-knit rainbow of Hershey's kiss-shaped acrylic dollops covers the canvas and then is hidden by a thick layer of gold. The gold obscures any imagery that may have been in the acrylic layers. This is a funny, bitter piece by a popular young artist trying to come to terms with the value of his own ideas.
Allen's work always lets you know what's on his mind, right away. It doesn't bother me that Allen is not the ultimate craftsman, that he hires people to bend his neon or cast his bronzes. He's an idea man. That's his strength, and that's the point of his work, and it is the antithesis of Bucknall's fine brushwork and meditatively engaging, escapist imagery. Still, seeing their work together in this rather bipolar exhibit is part of what makes it so enjoyable.