Have you ever kept a diary? Have you ever kept a diary and found that it's completely impossible to record the mundane events of your life in a linear way? This is what happens to me. I start writing all about how my trip to Walgreen's enlightened me to the beauty of both 2 for 1 gummy bears and, you know, life, but pretty soon my pen is scrawling all about how I really need to replace that blinky light bulb in the kitchen, and making a list of all the cute clothes I'll buy with my next paycheck.
My point is that rambling can be great, and for creative people, it's impossible to avoid. When a writer rambles or an artist sketches, synapses fire in new ways. These beautiful combinations of thoughts and ideas and nonsensical impulses sometimes turn into the most truthful and observant pieces. That's why sketch shows can be satisfying in ways that a collection of polished paintings can't touch. Of course, sometimes sketching can be completely dull. There's a reason why it's a rough draft. But group sketch shows offer a wide enough variety to keep you pleasantly entertained by some of the sillier pieces, with a few of those little treasures guaranteed to crop up.
Giant Robot's San Francisco gallery testifies to this idea with 8 x 10, a lively group sketch show with over 100 pieces from local artists. Manny Silva, a pal of mine from my days at CCA, contributed several pieces with his signature wistful charm and general loveliness. John Pham offered one knockout drawing daydream of peaceful stars and faces. Although there was no clear visual identity to quirky artist Matt Furie's work, his sketches consistently caught my eye. His elegiac "Fall Feelings" shows a naked skeleton under a similarly barren tree, as autumn leaves in the shape of skeletal hands fall to the ground. Furie's hilarious "Gremlin Party," a scene of day-glo monster-kids eating cake in party clothes, hit home in a way that made me re-examine my sweet childhood memories.
For the most part, 8 x 10 does a good job of staying true to its democratic sketch theme, and doesn't let any one artist's work dominate with loud themes or too much polish. Aiyana Udesen's drawings did push this boundary a bit, but only because I really wanted to see more of her work. With their fluorescent colors and witty punchlines, it was too tempting to scan the gallery just to find her next piece. Udesen drew loose portraits of our favorite pop star/trainwrecks Britney Spears (in her historic pre-bald days) and Lindsay Lohan. The shots she referenced are outrageous and unflattering -- Lindsay cackles with her mouth wide open, and I don't feel a need to explain the one entitled "Britney's Butt."
But Udesen surprises with her sense of humor about both her subjects and the fact that she's bothering to further immortalize them with her art. In one, Britney's face is spotted with bright red blotches, hovering over the title "Zitney Spears" and the apology "(She's a Republican)." There's the sense that Udesen can't help but draw these annoying, ubiquitous pop brats, and that kind of honesty is exactly what sketch books are about.
Of course, there are a lot of simple little pleasantries here, too. Susie Ghahremani offers '70s-inspired marker drawings of birds and trees that would make Marcia Brady squeal with delight. Several pieces rely on the old, stylish cartoons with non-sequitur speech bubbles shtick. Their meanings are either lost to failed irony or inscrutable inside jokes, but they are at least fun to look at. I'm sad to report that those blank, big-eyed girls pop up in Kelly Tunstall's contributions to the show. I officially wonder if I can ever hear the claim that work "explores femininity" without expecting yet another crop of these vacantly stylish zombies. Cynical? Please someone prove me wrong. I can't help but liken this type of work to playing with Barbies on my bedroom carpet.
Sketch shows can be exciting with their quick peeks into what artists really think about when they think no one is watching. A good collection of random sketches can prove that rambling has its purpose and stopping in at Giant Robot's gallery should at least convince you that the fruits can be fun and surprising. And if you need further proof, I have many fascinating thoughts on the merits of my new dish soap that I'd be happy to share...
8 x 10 runs through March 14, 2007 at Giant Robot in San Francisco.