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Reviews and reactions

The Carl Cherry Center has two pieces (Blue Sign and Astrolabe) on loan by Arthur Comings. Mr. Comings work is enigmatic and evocative, and provides a striking counterpoint to our sculpture gardens natural setting. Robert Reese, Executive Director Carl Cherry Center for the Arts Carmel, California

I’m always happy when one of Arthur’s pieces is juried into a show at Falkirk. His work is strong and inventive, and looks wonderful in our upstairs galleries. Beth Goldberg, CuratorFalkirk Cultural CenterSan Rafael, California

Bob Wait, who owns a piece from the Court Lines series, praises the work's warmth, the familiarity, the memories triggered. But the way you've arranged the lines is mid-century magic, like getting one's hands on an original Mondrian. Instead of seeing pieces from another era assembled for consideration in our time, these pieces seem to drag you back to theirs. A hazy childhood era 50-60 years back of early-morning gymnasiums and stone clocks embedded in dark paneling in your friend's family room. Bob WaitWait CellarsSan Francisco & Petaluma, CA

Review: Arthur Comings at Gallery Route One, Point Reyes Artweek, July/August 2007Like New Yorkers who often feel that California is provincial, those who usually see art in urban settings might think that bucolic Point Reyes is totally off the art-world map. But they could be in for a pleasant surprise. Arthur Comings recent show of sculptural assemblage, Funky California, at Gallery Route One offered up a hip sensibility, an awareness of art history, as well as a consistently sound craftsmanship, delivering what proved to be a persistently engaging show — yet one that raised a number of nagging questions.Elegantly presented, this exhibition featured seventeen sculptures in a restrained palette of black, orange and earth tones, with splashes of red here and there. Found objects assumed center stage, combined in witty, well-balanced compositions. C’mon home with me, sweet thing uses black stool legs, the white grill from an oscillating fan, and a hunk of burnt-orange steel, in a boxy, hollow, L shape; the orange form, encased in a thick canvas corset with heavy, corroded grommets laced with thick cotton cords, becomes the sweet thing of the title; allusions of bondage emerge, yet this more sinister reading is undercut by the good-nature literalness of the title. Following the date-night theme, My baby gives me a high temperature is, indeed, a hot piece. This one is very kinky — a black leather, or perhaps rubber semi-circle is anchored by twin rows of odd, rusty distressed bits of square metal, pierced by rusty finishing nails and sporting odd tufts of fiber. This construction is mounted on a donut-shaped chunk about two feet in diameter, its silver-grey paint rubbing off. the thrusting point of a rusted bicycle strains from a red metal trough.Another strong piece, Mother of God, is more mysterious. A wide, pale leather strap, a pinkish shade of gray, stained and cracked with age, is suspended at eye level. Triangular metal pieces are clamped at either end with square metal clips and includes an enigmatic curving metal piece (of automotive origin?) and a dark and scuffed-up sphere. An aperture peeps through behind the ball. Four stiff, slender cords are poised at the bottom, threaded through holes in the metal and anchored by wooden beads. In this case, the title begs for a religious association, one which evaded this viewer, save for the triangular shapes suggesting, perhaps, the holy trinity.Ken’s Box uses a battered wooden box, a scrap of a white-painted, stenciled sign, a mirror and an orange light bulb to intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying effect. Shiny metal hardware which attaches the wooden legs somehow seems out of place, repeatedly catching our eye and breaking the mood conjured up by the weathered elements. More successful, Special Built Little Woman utilizes a flattened, rusty paint tray to anchor an anthropomorphized work, with plastic lips and teeth — cracked and gaping — as the punch line. The beauty of the rusted metal is lyrical, the elements composed with a poetic sensibility, yet, ultimately, the piece becomes too literal, the use of the lips as a signifier for the female sex humorous, but unfortunately stinging, and, in the end, they pushed my 'gender issues' button. Learning that Comings is heavily influenced by the blues, and that many titles are taken from blues songs, warmed me up a bit. Still, at the risk of seeming like a cranky old feminist, I found repeated dismissive references to the female sex somewhat of-putting.Table for Marcel D, a lively piece where a carom board perches atop a bright orange stand, forced the issue of kinship with the master of found objects. Comings’ home page also cops a relationship, 'To borrow words that have been used to describe Marcel Duchamp’s puns, my assemblages undermine the basic suppositions of a static and immutable reality, because they are concerned with the equating of two different realities. The wider the gap between these two realities in ordinary life, the brighter the spark that illuminates their formerly undiscovered connection (Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp. With everyone under the sun tracing their conceptual roots to old Marcel, I suppose it’s no surprise that Comings feels compelled to pay homage.Feel like sugar on the floor, another circular wooden piece, is painted black, and supports a grid of evil-looking mattress springs that pop right out of their rusting fabric covers. This platform houses a diamond-shaped sign, scarred and gouged, where a fire symbol and numbers suggest danger, work and flammability. I was firmly convinced that the title, suggesting a hot time down low, worked well as inference without intrusion. Googling the phrase, however, reveals a melancholy song of dejection and wasted potential, which just goes to show . . . maybe I’ve been listening to too much of my daughter’s rap music?Around the same time I viewed Funky California, I stopped in on Nayland Blake’s exhibition at Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco. The Blake work seemed a kissing cousin to Comings, sharing a similar palette, materials and fetishistic quality. Where Comings sidesteps the kinkiness with funky titles, Blake’s work plunges headlong down a dark path. Comings’ work could hold its own next to Blake, an also suggests sculptural works by other well-known and rising artists. If Funky California were found in a posh downtown gallery, with price tags ten times what they were in West Marin, no one would bat an eyelash. Yet, as Comings doesn’t have quite the right artistic pedigree, his work might ultimately be a hard sell. We buy that name, the history, and the connections, as much — or perhaps more than — we buy the actual art. And that, my friends, is the way the world works.Still, with a keen eye, a compelling vision and determination, who knows how far one may go? As globalization of the art world becomes the norm and the importance of connection to an art center such as New York or Paris diminishes, perhaps there will eventually be more space for talented artists who tread a path outside the well-worn ruts of art schools — for those who hail from a place as strange as Fairfax.— Barbara MorrisArthur Comings: Funky California closed in April at Gallery Route One, Point Reyes Station.Barbara Morris is a contributing editor to Artweek.