At “Process Portrait,” a group show now at Firehouse North Gallery on Shattuck, the cavernous front window holds Hannah Lee Hoffman’s piece titled, “How is everything even connected?” It’s like entering a refuge but also stepping onstage. You move, draw and play with her belongings — sewn-together wisps of memories and trinkets — which evoke nostalgia and induce a desire to know the significance of each candy wrapper and tea bag.
She especially considered how to illustrate her process, a continually shifting period of time. This growth and progress without necessarily a concrete goal in mind is one of the paradoxes of “Process Portrait” and of art more generally. We see different artists’ evolutions illustrated, sculpted, drawn, painted and sewn together, and the story of the process itself evolves from a subject to a medium. As Anjelica Colliard described, she is not really sure what to say to fully explain every detail and motive of her painting “Mandala.”
All six artists respect and integrate the ideas of dismantling, abstracting and involving some grit and story behind their work. The pieces aren’t necessarily dark but nuanced with unusual textures or quirks which blend seamlessly with their styles and personalities. A dialogue persists through the show, with color, uplifting effect and even shadows. Such is the case with “Xylem” by Smith|Allen and Caity Ballister’s nibbled corn tortilla piece, “Off the Cob.”
“Xylem” resides in the window opposite Hoffman’s installation. Its spidery, cellular form represents the vascular tissue in plants. As Bryan Allen describes, xylem is the material left of a tree when it has burnt down. This raw feel is visible from up close — you can see the fibers span the negative spaces of the form. The biological, cellular forms were actually created with a 3-D printer on the UC Berkeley campus. The duo further explores the relationship between nature and technology in their drawings and computer translations as well as in their “Cell/cellular” series.
Eve Arbel’s textured style also adds variety to the show. Her works tempt gallery-goers to touch her paintings and sculptures. In “Peace and Quiet,” she started with drawings and coated them with strips of white paper. After finding it too beautiful and too boring, she added dimension to the shredded layers with pink and red clayish paint in bruised patterns. We are left in a trance, pausing at each claw-mark-looking stripe layered onto the canvas. Though the result doesn’t necessarily evoke the working title, she kept it as an homage to her process. The titles of her other paintings, such as “It’s Rough Out There” and “There Are Endless Perspectives” also summarize some of the key points of the show.
The repetition of applying the paper strips was the automatic movement to spark color for the finished product. It was the same way with Ballister and her tortillas and with Hoffman’s collection of mementos. The objects of life that are important but not monumental were the unexpected inspiration for the Berkeley grads.
The most valuable aspect of the show, however, is the variety. The collaboration doesn’t force a connection — each artist differs so much in medium and subject that containing his or her works to a strict theme would not be successful. Hoffman points out the unspoken and assumed phenomenon of artists transforming simple materials and objects into art. It is clear that her installation title, “How does everything even come together?” is a question that doesn’t necessarily need to be answered. Instead, the show evokes the dialectic between exploration and reflection of your own life, which is essential to growth as both an artist and a person.