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Balancing on the Brink at Felix Kulpa

ane_felixkulpaIn a black-on-black topography delineated only by texture, a thick viscous muck marches upward at an angle within a deep steel frame. This tarry density contrasts with the reflective, burnished darkness beyond, suggesting a dangerous precipice looming against shining sky. Carved deep within the tarry cliff, small oblong chambers are scribed with lines suggesting growing seeds. A small cluster of metal type floats above the dark horizon like seeds just released in the wind in an untitled work by Michelle Stitz.

Stitz in her most ambitious and successful works seems to seek that dangerous fulcrum between profoundly minimal and disturbingly unresolved. Just a hair more clear, linear or prescriptive and they could become prettily prosaic, but with any less information, could seem empty of content. That’s a slender hair upon which to hang a reputation and Stitz runs right up to that hairsbreadth, and balances right there, on the precipice.

With artist Jody Alexander, Stitz shares the Felix Kulpa Gallery in the exhibition “White Balance,” which closes July 31. It would be a crime to miss the show; the gallery has never been lovelier or more interesting.

In “Stillness,” Stitz uses the handsome materials for which she has become known: multilayered resin, pigment and embedded objects bounded by deep steel frames. Within an engrossing rosy pool of deep translucent resin, lines of embedded pigment angle into the depths, never really meeting on one plane, but intersecting in Escher-esque relationships, calling on the viewer to peer deeply within and let go any rigid ideas of figure and ground.

Two paintings on black roofing paper deviate from Stitz’s usual materials and imagery, painted with salt solution interacting turbulently with the tar-infused paper, scribed with rudimentary drawings, embellished with small gardens of plastic flowers and floated within steel-framed glass boxes.ane_felixexhib In “Cement Garden” a giant amorphous white salty cloud hovers ominously over the pitch-dark horizon of the naked paper while an old-fashioned metal bed floats in indeterminate space, a haunting, dreamlike image.

I am already many times on record for my admiration of Jody Alexander’s wryly witty, sensually delightful objects and installations. Her work is perfectly sited in the diffused light of Felix Kulpa, with its tenderly crumbling walls and ebullient spirit. The pale, precious volumes of “Felix’s Notebooks,” the toothsome pages of gothic type embellished with delicate, colorful stitchery, the old pedestal sink “armed” with a mound of spitwads and straws seem designed into the room. The artists share subtle palettes and sophisticated sensibilities.


“White Balance” at Felix Kulpa Gallery, 107 Elm St., Santa Cruz closes Sunday, July 31. Maureen Davidson writes about the arts as The Exhibitionist. This column and her radio spot and blog at KUSP.org are funded in part by a grant from the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County.

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