From screen to canvas: Spoke Art celebrates Stanley Kubrick

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Spoke Art/Courtesy

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What do Steven Spielberg, “The Simpsons” and San Francisco’s Spoke Art Gallery have in common? All three have paid homage to Stanley Kubrick, the filmmaker whose contributions to 20th century cinema are nearly overwhelming in scope and scale.

“KUBRICK: An art show tribute” is the latest in a series of auteur tributes at Spoke Art. The exhibit features original works by more than 60 artists who were free to draw inspiration from any Kubrick film of their choosing. Past exhibits include those dedicated to directors Martin Scorsese and David Lynch — both of whom, interestingly enough, have listed Kubrick’s films among their personal favorites.

Kubrick’s filmography, which includes classics such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” (1968) “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) and “The Shining” (1980), is particularly suited to artistic interpretation and reimagining. This is because his films have their own visual vocabulary: a set of enduring, iconic images — such as the bootcamp sequence from “Full Metal Jacket,” “The Shining’”s Grady twins or the war room of “Dr. Strangelove” —  that are referenced with regularity in popular culture.

At Spoke Art, these and countless other visual motifs have been reinterpreted and recontextualized by contemporary artists. The resulting body of work, described in a gallery statement as a “cross-section between film and art,” spans subject matter, styles and mediums. Certain images, such as those of Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) from “The Shining” or Kubrick’s own face in profile, recur throughout the exhibit, but the particular excitement of this tribute is that pieces can be identical in subject matter and remain utterly distinct.

Take, for example, two portraits of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), the writer turned caretaker who descends into madness at the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.”  “All Work No Play” is a mixed-media portrait of Jack by Chicago-based artist Epyon5. The artist used hand-cut stencils and spray paint over Chinese newsprint on canvas to create a portrait that pairs the graphic shapes of stencil renderings with the intricacies of classical portraiture; Torrance is bounded on all sides by a fleur-de-lis frame. He also employs religious iconography: Rays of light beam from Torrance’s head, much like the halo used to depict holy figures in early Christian art.

Minotaur,” another portrait of Jack by local artist Joemur, is a seemingly straightforward work of oil on canvas, but the effect is no less striking. Here, Jack is a hunched figure shrouded in black, his threatening gaze fixed on the viewer. Joemur’s colors, unlike Epyon5’s contrasting blue-and-red scheme, are monochromatic, but the portrait is no less impactful or detailed. Most striking is the barest hint of the famous Overlook Hotel carpeting, painted delicately over Jack’s dark form as if reflecting onto him. Joemur’s Jack, with his restrained menace, is a figure we cannot help but read as supernatural and entirely sinister.

Other notable works include a reworked film poster for “Lolita” (1962), one of Kubrick’s earliest feature-length films. The poster is a four-color screen print by Polish illustrator Bartosz Kosowski that, with the help of negative space and audience imagination, suggests bare thighs and a bikini with nothing more than one candy-pink lollipop. Also delightfully salacious is Jayde Fish’s “Nasty Bits of Ultra-Violence,” a densely layered ink-on-paper work that depicts the cast of “A Clockwork Orange” engaged in all manner of X-rated activities. The figures are inked in telltale shades of red and blue — they are supposed to be viewed in 3-D. Surely enough, 3-D glasses hang next to the work, just begging to be worn.

In many ways, the entirety of “KUBRICK: An art show tribute,” is begging us to wear it, examine it and engage with it, too. “KUBRICK” is a visual art exhibit that pays tribute to the work of a filmmaker. It is an exhibit that inhabits the twilight zone of film as image and screen on canvas. Ultimately, it is an exhibit concerned with transcending mediums, transforming images and leaving the viewer utterly, if not morbidly, transfixed.

KUBRICK: An art show tribute” is on view at Spoke Art until Sept. 27.

Contact Sarah Adler at [email protected].