Oakland boasts so much art that it’s impossible to take it all in. Some of it appears furtively, illegally, on the streets and under the onramps. Some of it shows in upscale galleries all over town, with price tags and author credits. Occasionally, the same artist spans the two worlds, leading us to question the nature of graffiti — and of art. Nite Owl’s show at Loakal is one of these boundary-testing exhibitions.
Loakal Art Gallery and Boutique is a multipurpose space. Located near Jack London Square, the setting is hip and clean and away from the madness of downtown. Coming through the front doors, you have the immediate choice of gallery space or retail therapy.
The gallery up front showcases a well-known graffiti artist named Nite Owl in a show called “Aesthetic Transience.” True to his moniker, Nite Owl’s works largely feature owl designs — one grumpy-looking, tough, urban owl in particular. The artist uses reclaimed wood and canvas surfaces and, notably, a borrowed traffic sign. The appeal is obvious and has a strong local flavor; two of Nite Owl’s largest works appear over slaps and bills and are headlined “HELLA.” The aim of the artist is described on his Facebook page as “eclectic artworks inspired by travels, trips and hip hop culture with a splash of big brother paranoia.” The Nite Owl show is complemented by an intuitive hip-hop music set provided by DJ Baysik, who spins new and old hip-hop, mixed to please the crowd rather than to show off. The combination of sight and sound gives visitors to the opening a great sense of the aims of the gallery.
Chris Granillo’s “The Sacred Language of Mystics” is in the transitional space of the gallery, fitting placement for a liminal set of works. Granillo’s style is esoteric and indigenous, using hermetic symbols in a flat, simple figure. Eschewing symmetry and reaching for something more subconscious than conscious, Granillo’s show reaches for something raw. His “Zetans Trial” invites the curiosity and then confronts the onlooker with something unexpected.
Behind the facade, the main part of the building is a large open warehouse. The main foyer is beautifully arranged, with excellent lighting. The corners are partitioned into individual artists’ studios, some of which are open for viewing. Large-scale close-up paintings of everyday objects by Terry Furry are displayed in the open space, including a stunning hand-crank mixer rendered 6 feet long. Furry also shows a collection of religious-themed curios and reliquaries featuring athletic supporters as well as a studio full of very intimate portraits of young urban men in various states of undress.
Artist Sharaine Bell’s studio reveals curious and haunting images of traffic jams, mostly in monochrome. These paintings are strangely affecting despite their common subject matter. Across from her space, dioramas by Jane Elliott offer something very original. Elliott is executing a graphic novel series called “About Mayfair,” the story of a post-petrol world using dioramas as a medium. Their graphic quality and lyrical expression is very compelling.
The retail boutique space of the gallery is almost as interesting as the art. A great deal of handmade craft is offered at good prices, including custom wood iPad stands, quirky handmade jewelry, screen-printed bags and 3-D printed objects. A refreshingly original assortment of Oakland-themed T-shirts is also for sale, including a series based on the giant cargo cranes dreaming of becoming AT-AT Walkers. For art gallery crafts, all of these are offered at very fair prices and are definitely tempting. Loakal Gallery is an intensely Oakland-flavored experience. In both art and craft, it is showing the beating heart of the city.