"Think about stockings, graffiti chicks, origami, crumpled stationary, scented tissues, lip gloss and sweet scented girl rooms..." and you've got Sweet Sunny Temper, a new exhibit in the upstairs gallery of Double Punch, a delicious toy store in North Beach. Painted with a pale pink border of kissing whales, like the decor one might find in a little girl's fancy bedroom, the gallery is designed to bring on a nearly visceral girly feeling. The work of five Bay Area female artists will inevitably be described as "cute," but there are a few subversive edges and conniving winks tucked into the pervasive adorability.
In this context, Natalie Roland's prints of intense animals are striking because they are the least girly. My favorite is of a drunken bear called Romeo was from the wrong family. Kelly Tunstall contributes a series of doe-eyed, long-necked women on wood, canvas, and air-mail envelopes. Fawn Gehweiler's cartoon ladies are rendered in a strictly pink and black palette, and Jessica Whiteside's unapologetically girlish collection of sullen sex kittens, hearts and birds, stands out -- maybe because she painted the wall behind it. Looking at white walls gets old, so anyone who takes the time to prepare a different surface should get extra points. It's like making sure your artwork has a homey place to hang out.
Despite the collective niceties of the other artists' work, Leah Brawley totally stole the show for me with her delicately rendered watercolors. At the top of the stairs to the gallery, Brawley's first painting (of a girl dressed in frilly clothing) greets you with the phrase, "hajimemashite," (nice to meet you). With titles like When I leave my apartment in the morning I can smell the trees in the park, Brawley calls her works tiny self-portraits "that serve as a visual diary of thoughts and desires." My favorite is a painting of a tangled mess of ladies in candy-colored leggings. Backed by flowered paper in a simple wooden frame, it reminded me of a lovely tea party. The artist also painted a series of small, colorful wooden dolls called Friends, the only sculptural works in the show.
While it was encouraging to see an exhibit of all female artists, I was left wondering why so many young women painters lean toward the cutesy aesthetic. As someone who paints glitter ponies and ice cream sandwiches, I have a theory that it's due to growing up with cartoons, friendship bracelets, sleepovers, and Barbie commercials. It's a way of referencing and idealizing those innocent times as we venture further and further into Grown-up Land.
Though Sweet Sunny Temper, curated by Lian Ladia, has a decidedly feminine feel and made me want to run home and paint everything pink, everyone will undoubtedly love Double Punch because of its reasonably priced artwork and happy kid, fun time atmosphere. You can purchase small paintings and prints on consignment and all the collectible Japanese toys your heart desires. I got a killer panda zombie and a tiny cow shaped like a milk bottle.
Sweet Sunny Temper is at Double Punch through November 16, 2007.