Faultline Art Space opens in Fruitvale
on May 14, 2012
It’s been nearly three decades since the Bhopal disaster left thousands dead in India, altering the face of one of the world’s largest agriculture economies following a leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals at a plant run by Union Carbide India Limited.
Today, attitudes towards the excessive use of chemicals in India have changed, but the pollution of public water systems with industrial waste from plants run by major chemical manufacturers continues with very little regulation.
This was the message of one of the works exhibited Saturday night in the opening show at the recently launched Faultline Art Space in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.
The “Ghost of Warren Anderson,” a $9,500 piece by Faultline founder and artist Ryan McJunkin, shows thousands of screen-printed butterflies pinned to the wall, forming a mushroom cloud that begins with just one butterfly on the floor and balloons into a cloud of thousands of 3-D butterflies climbing up to the 19-foot high ceiling of Faultline’s new exhibition space.
“Each one of these butterflies represents a victim of the gas spill incident,” McJunkin said, adding that the detailed butterfly paintings, which cast crispy shadows onto the newly painted walls of Faultline’s dimly lit studio, are based on butterfly species native to India.
McJunkin said he chose butterflies to depict the victims of the chemical leak not only because they are likeable, but also because butterflies are fragile and usually the first victims of a major environmental disaster.
Faultline is situated in an industrial building off International Boulevard. The space serves as an on-site gallery and studio for up to 12 artists, providing them with a communal working and exhibition space. McJunkin plans to have artists from Oakland and San Francisco paint murals covering the exterior of the 6,000 square foot building and part of the interior.
“I was looking for a space to run as a studio for myself and other artists,” McJunkin said. “The artists exhibiting in this space will be a little younger and edgier, and we’re trying to attract both the academic crowd and street artists.”
The space officially opened on May 12 with an exhibition featuring McJunkin’s work along with works by artists Madeline Tonzi, David Polka, Felicia Gabaldon, Ernest Doty, Thomas Christopher Haag, Clare Szydlowski, Chris Granillo and street artists “Oree Originol” and “Koleo.” The inaugural show featured nearly 60 pieces of art with a collective value of more than $50,000.
McJunkin has attracted a group of like-minded artists from different backgrounds artists and academic backgrounds. Among them is Doty, a young artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico who is now based in Oakland.
Doty’s painting, “The Vessel,” depicts the militarization of human conflict and its disastrous effects on both the environment and human society. The 10 foot high painting shows the effects of the industrialization of war depicted through a graduated arrangement that begins with a depiction of battle scenes and abandoned horses during the American Civil War, continues with the triumphant hoisting of the flag at Iwo Jima and ends with a towering mushroom cloud at Hiroshima.
The painting is emblazoned with the words “I FEEL LIKE MY TREES ARE ALL GONE, AND MY EARTH HAS BEEN SCORCHED. THE VESSEL IS SHATTERED INSIDE BY THE SECRETS IT STORES.”
Doty said he decided to exhibit at Faultline because it provides artists with a different working environment and costs much less than other galleries.
“Most places are charging us a commission of 50 to 60 percent or more. This space charges a commission of only 20 percent,” Doty said, adding, “It’s different, and working in a collaborative environment is a source of good energy.”
McJunkin said he decided to charge a commission of only 20 percent to alleviate the hardship of artists who have had to pay more than half of their proceeds for art space. This seems to have attracted younger and upcoming artists, he said.
The environment was a prominent theme in the works exhibited at Faultline’s opening show. Artist Claire Szydlowski, born in Buffalo, New York, a city she describes as having at once been “the premier industrial city of America,” exhibited part of a work titled “Buy American,” which she says depicts how people often find themselves in a position of unfulfilled desire in their pursuit of the “American Dream.”
“My work shows how these dreams can sometimes be two dimensional, unattainable and perhaps a nostalgic fantasy that never was,” she said.
“I grew up in Buffalo NY, an old industrial city which in the 1980s and 90s was in a state of economic decline due to the closing of industrial manufacturing in the city,” Szydlowski said. “I then moved to the suburbs of Orange County in 1998 which was very different from gritty Buffalo. Everything is brand new and commercial.”
Her work features cardboard homes and landscapes with paintings that are divided up into several numbered squares, often with wording characteristic of ubiquitous advertising campaigns, like “Free Gift,” “Enjoy Now, Free” and “See Inside for Details.”
At least one wall in Faultline’s exhibition space was devoted to the work of four street artists, all of whom painted their work in less than five hours, beginning during the launch of the art space and finishing before the end of the evening.
One of these paintings, in which a man rushes to save another from falling is reminiscent of WH Auden’s description of Brueghel’s Icarus, “a boy falling out of the sky,” except the ploughman in this painting has no plough. The artist, who goes by the street name “Koleo” says this work is open to interpretation, and depicts the complexities of street life, where one often has to rely on the support of their peers.
Chris Vanderpool, one of the art enthusiasts who attended the launch, said the Fruitvale neighborhood was a fitting venue for artists, especially street artists who needed a professional space for their work.
“One of the artists [Ernest Doty] painted a mural similar to “The Keeper” on an alley on Solano Avenue, and it’s good to see the completed work on exhibition here,” said Vanderpool. “The Keeper” is made out of gold leafing spray painted on steel canvas, and was one of the major draws at the show.
The inaugural show will run for the next two months, after which McJunkin and manager Thomas Christopher Haag plan to host a similar exhibition every two months.
Fautline Art Space is located on the 800 block of High Street between the train tracks and Wattling Street. The exhibition space is currently still under construction. More information for artists and members of the public is on their website here.
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