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Art

American mirth

8/10/2016

Things are looking a bit more like business as usual again at Steven Vail Fine Arts. The second-floor gallery in the Teachout Building was inaccessible for weeks because of crime scene barricades. Architect and building owner Kirk Blunck was found dead in front of Vail’s doorway, and it became a kind of memorial.

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Robert Cottingham’s alphabet series exhibit is currently on display at Steven Vail Fine Arts.

“For several weeks people I didn’t know, or even know that Kirk knew, would come and linger with tears in their eyes. Some people who knew him well would weep outside my doorway,” explained Steven Vail.

Vail’s latest exhibition is an attempt to recapture a bit of mirth. Robert Cottingham, is a renowned American realist,  best known for work he began doing in Los Angeles where he became an archivist of urban California in the 1960s and ’70s. Neon signs, movie marquees, car dealerships, department stores, etc. were all part of his repertoire. Later the painter would incorporate photography.

Vail is showing his alphabet series, which represents his style and themes as well as anything. He began in 1970, one year before his first solo gallery show in New York. Searching for subject matter in Los Angeles’ barren downtown neighborhoods, he found an old movie house that had survived both vaudeville and the silent film era. The Art Theater marquee charmed him with three-dimensional letters casting shadows across the sign’s flat red background. Their neon tubes were recessed within “shadow box” letters allowing them to shine, even in the California sunshine. Old light bulb sockets added a rhythmic counterpoint and historical clue. Rich colors and a reflective surface gave the sign what Cottingham described as a “circus-like energy.“

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He photographed the sign and used that shot to paint a masterpiece called “Art.” He also decided that the “a” in that sign should become the starting point of an Americana alphabet series. He would find his “b” at a 1950’s era Buick dealership.

Cottingham found his “c” in Connecticut at a community theater, another piece of Americana he felt represented an era gone with the wind. The series was in irreversible momentum. Much of it was included in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum honoring the artist’s contribution to American history. Visitors amuse themselves trying to recognize the source of different letters. The “j” is the easiest — it’s from J.C. Penny’s. …

Des Moines based film maker Kristian Day is diversifying his Hollywood resume after years of specializing in reality TV. Since May he’s been working on a children’s show for PBS called “Moochie Kalala Detectives Club.” He is the sole producer. He also showed works in Des Moines Social Club’s Americana exhibition, at Tacopocalypse, and this month he will have a solo show at The Lift.

 

Coming soon: Des Moines native Anna Gaskell debuts her video “The Mirror” at the Des Moines Art Center beginning Aug. 12 and playing through Nov. 3. … Larassa Kabel opens her latest solo show at Moberg Gallery on Aug. 26. ■

 

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