Inside a former Masonic temple in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood of Berkeley, Traywick Contemporary is technically an "apartment gallery." That is, if you had a massive white-walled space in your home reserved solely for the exhibition of art. Despite its high ceilings and the impossibly uncluttered public living spaces, Traywick provides a setting for a more casual art-viewing experience. It's a welcoming environment honed over 20 years of operation.
In celebration of their two decades in the gallery business, Traywick's 2017 programming is meant for "old friends and new audiences," a possible hint at an inter-generational approach. It is fitting, then, that the initial solo shows from Steuart Pittman and John Fraser link both aesthetically and in the artists' personal histories.
Oakland-based Pittman presents The Twist, a group of meticulous abstract paintings, their simple silhouettes belying the artist’s careful consideration of surface, color and framing. Pittman's shapes have straight, curved and ragged sides (like the tear of a magazine page or the terrain of a mountain range). All edges are hard, clearly delineating shape from ground. Many of the compositions have a jaunty quality, helped in no small part by Pittman’s titles: Earth Angel, Sports Bro, Lounge Act.
In contrast, the titles of works in Fraser’s Ecru, all made over the past six years, often reference their own structures. (Measured) Four-Part Horizon contains a repurposed ruler and four separate panels of varying heights. Fraser also has a penchant for Roman numerals, a testament to the artist's iterative practice.
Using found books stripped of their pages and spread-eagle, his works become meditations on units of measurement, the rectilinear shapes of bookbinding shifting and multiplying across collaged surfaces. Cul De Sac (Blue Vertical) is, to use the artist’s own term, the most “baroque” of his pieces, with a rectangle of blue punctuating the mellow grays, creams and browns of the construction on panel.
The satisfying reveal of the artists’ pairing is the fact that they know each other well. Pittman, who grew up outside of Chicago, was Fraser’s studio assistant for several years. He even titles one of his works Quadruple Quarter-Round (For Fraser). Yet the power dynamics of that past relationship dissolve completely in mix of the exhibitions, where the parallels between two artists relentlessly pursuing their own visual vocabularies unfold with quiet grace.
'Ecru' and 'The Twist' are on view at Traywick Contemporary in Berkeley through March 25, 2017. For more information, see here.