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Originally published in Artweek, March 1998

Shining Stars: Four Cultural Visionaries of Contemporary Painting
at the Pacific Heritage Museum

This weighty title denotes an ambitious exhibition aimed at furthering the goals of the Pacific Heritage Museum to promote " ÷artistic, cultural, economic and other interchanges between peoples on both sides of the Pacific Basin". The venture serves as a showcase for and is funded by the Bank of Canton. This perhaps explains why the interior of exhibition space looks like a bank lobby complete with dusty rose carpeting and mellow lighting. The financial theme is reinforced by permanent archeological exhibits relating to the first use of the building as the U.S. Subtreasury. A very glossy four-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition and admission to the Museum is FREE.

The multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-styled "Cultural Visionaries" represents both sides of the Pacific with two of the artists born in China and two in the U.S. These artists hybridize their backgrounds in both Eastern and Western styles of painting resulting in conflated sensibilities exploring realism, neo-surrealism and abstraction. All artists currently reside in the Bay Area.

Highlights of the exhibition include Lampo Leongs’ heavily varnished thinly painted multi-layered bombardments of color and form. His work evokes fabric or very slick high quality photographs or computer printouts. Pyrophoric II, Molten Magma and Encountering Divinity, (all works acrylic and mixed media on canvas ,1997), erupt with deep reds, oranges and giant bits velvety blacks. These fiery offerings feature blown up and abstracted calligraphy both exploding and merging artistic histories and cultures. Also blending calligraphic line with "Western" abstract painting is Judith Foosaner. Her gestural paintings and drawings float on the walls in two small rooms off the central gallery. Narrow doorways and diffused light coming from rice paper covered windows provide the perfect setting for Foosaner’s freshest works – Botoh 1,2,3 (oil on canvas, 1997), a trio of thin vertical panels and Ikebana, (oil on canvas, 1996). Washes of pale greens and minimal markings characterize both paintings, effecting a sense of unfettered freedom.

While lacking the lyricism of Leong and Foosaner, the other two "Shining Stars" do conjure up ideas of Asia with more concrete and realistic imagery. Trained in Japanese calligraphy, Joe Brotherton’s large-scale ink drawings evoke old-time San Francisco (Top of Kearney Street; Café Trieste) and capture the natural world (Forest Energies; Rivers Journey). These large works on rice paper reveal beneficial outcomes of the blending of cultures while his neo-surrealistic painting (Stella Maris) didactically discloses the icons, stereotypes, exploits and exploitations which have issued from Pacific Rim exchanges. Zhang Fu Lu claustrophobically re-creates the poverty and oppression in his native China (as well as in his adopted country) in his dense and richly textured mid-sized oil and mixed media (burlap) paintings.

As well as offering a meditative escape from the hustle and bustle of the financial center, these four artists aid the Pacific Heritage Museum in fulfilling their mission to present documents about the convergence of Eastern and Western styles and imagery. This exhibition demonstrates that influences, materials and subject matter are no longer tied to cultural (ethnic) identities as artists join a global community where physical, economic, intellectual and aesthetic borders are continually being crossed (out?).

- Amy Berk

Shining Stars: Four Cultural Visionaries of Contemporary Painting will remain at the Pacific Heritage Museum at 608 Commercial Street (at Montgomery) through December 31, 1998.

Amy Berk is an artist, writer and teacher living in San Francisco.