New Yorker Tadashi Moriyama packs his small scale gouache and ink drawings full of objects. Usually homogeneous office buildings. Occasionally he leaves room for some sky or water, but this might be intended only to give his wrist some relief before forcing it to scratch in some more skyscrapers.
Color seems to be incidental to his work. Appearing randomly chosen, his palette is limited to washed-out blues and a yellow that imitates the tone of a highlighter pen. Sometimes a green percolates to the surface. There is really no reason for the colors. His drawings could easily exist in black & white.
Nothing is horribly wrong with Moriyama's work, except how much they owe -- ideologically and stylistically -- to Hans Georg Rauch's stark political cartoons of the '70s. Rauch's "baroque architectonics" were truly horrific, while Moriyama's seems merely, um, limpid.
And that is the problem with much of the work featured in Propagations, the latest group show at Johansson Projects. For a selection of artists intended to expound upon and expand ideas of fecundity, the gallery seems a little barren.
Kiersten Essenpreis and Alexis Amann, painters both, tend toward navel gazing. Their tattooed heroines exist in vulgar worlds full of puking, severed limbs and dead fish. Surrealism mixes with bits of self-loathing. Reflecting back, I can't be totally sure about the self-loathing. It may just be the heroines' emotions are hard to read due to poor brush work.
With a few hundred pieces of folded paper hanging from the ceiling, Paul Hayes's Cultivated Momentum might have had the ability to recreate the fear of swarms found in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. I say "might have" because the installation is too darn small. Measuring in at no more that twelve feet square, it's hardly menacing. To be visually arresting it really needs to grow and take over the entire second bay at Johansson.
All is not lost though.
Rebecca Whipple's richly-colored drawings are terrific. And are the show's saving grace. Using the vocabulary of classic Persian miniatures, Whipple creates mysterious tales of beauty, carnage and unfettered misery in the Middle East.
Her stunning Victory features a mountainous paradise populated by explosions, camels, rams and fleeing human body parts. Surrounding this lurid scene is a flat brown border filled with death from above, a half-dozen Superfortress Bombers raining down hell's fire.
Propagations is at Johansson Projects in Oakland through May 2, 2008.