I spent much of August waiting for things to change. For job applications to turn into paychecks, phone calls to turn into faces, and for hot, hot days to mellow into an autumn routine. I was not hoping for gradual change -- the incremental shift in perspective that occurs as you hike up a long steep trail -- but for a dramatic reversal. Alchemy. I pinned my hopes to the possibility that monotony could give birth to its opposite, the unexpected.
I spent quite a bit of time at the Mixing Bowl, a new café and restaurant in Oakland's Temescal District. They have free refills on coffee and are a downhill bike ride from my apartment. I spent long mornings reading free weeklies and writing in my journal. And sometime mid-month, I looked up. Berkeley artist Jon Stich has eight paintings hanging on the Mixing Bowl's walls. Many were initially done for editorial clients, such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Hyphen magazine. But the works don't need words to be understood. They have stories of their own.
Stich realistically depicts surreal situations: a woman surrounded by swirling fish, a park bench populated by people whose heads have turned into cameras, a barely clothed figure with the body of a man and the head of a lizard. Each work contains internal contradictions and impossibilities. In A Simple Solution, a Sumo wrestler squats on what looks like a slanted San Francisco street, a row of Victorian homes in the background. Babies crawl and roll in the street beneath him, while fighter jets form a pattern in the distance. A man fishes from a small dinghy in a river -- I imagine the back swamps of Louisiana -- in The Ubiquitous Van 2. A repurposed U-Haul truck hovers behind him, graffiti covering its sides, the urban intruding on the backcountry. Stich's even style prevents such contradictions from becoming discordant or overly playful. Instead, they appear revelatory, possessing the logic and authority of a dream. The rational brain knows it can't happen, but the gut knows it's true.
In The Day They Do, a man in a field holds a pig by a leash. Clear dragonfly wings have sprouted from the animal's back. This pig can finally fly. All has supposedly changed. Still the scene is mundane. The farmer's hat is dirty, his pants wrinkled and worn. The impossible and the actual merge into one scene. The farfetched and the everyday coexist. Miracles on a dusty hot field.
As it often happens, I began to read my own story into the art on the wall. In Still Life With Flowers, a girl sits with folded legs staring at an altar to the dead, waiting for the ordinary to sprout wings and fly away.
Jon Stich's work will be on display at the Mixing Bowl, 4920 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, until September 20, 2008.