At first not obvious, artists Bing Zhang and TaVee McAllister Lee rely on similar strategies in creating their work, a combination of random interaction, multilayered process, and meticulous execution. Standing with the work in Commuter, one may experience this essential convergence, a combination of chance and intention that elevates the routine and marginal to heroic and meaningful, a reminder and reflection of values and value.
Bing Zhang came to the U.S. from Beijing, China in 2001 and received an MFA in 2011 from San Francisco Art Institute. Since graduation she has been painting in her San Jose, CA, studio. Recently Zhang was awarded a solo exhibition at Triton Museum in Santa Clara and has shown extensively in the Bay Area. Awards for painting include best of show at the Haggin Museum in 2016, among others.
Part of Zhang’s creative process involves navigating the world with a camera, capturing the unguarded moments and intimacies between and among people often going about their daily lives. Here in Commuter, they are traveling to or from, perhaps on the subway or virtually at work or engaged elsewhere. In much of her work, as in Boy on a Train, it appears Zhang knows her subjects well though in the rest of the paintings on view it seems more likely she has encountered them haphazardly. They seem oblivious, unaware of her watchful eye. This phase of Zhang’s creative practice is embedded in the work; the time, the observation, the multiple small decisions involved in choosing the visual angle, intricacies and focus of the image she will paint.
Alongside the details of finding and deciding on the specific images to paint runs the arc of Zhang’s intention. Shown here, the Subway paintings and Café are embedded with concepts of class, work, connection/ disconnection, and technology along with the intimacy of observation and presence evident in her greater body of work.
Ultimately Zhang selects her subject and begins the next phase of the work. With a refined and classic technique, the chosen image, vicarious and fleeting, is transformed into a new painted reality, one that can only be created through a tremendous investment of time in training and practice as well as a keen sensitivity as Zhang so clearly demonstrates.
TaVee McAllister Lee was born in South Dakota and grew up mostly in Oklahoma, after a living in Laos as a little girl. With a BFA in Painting and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute she moved to California’s San Francisco Bay Area where she now maintains a studio in Martinez. A curator as well as an artist with an extensive exhibition record, Lee has been the director, coordinator or on the curatorial team for over 100 gallery exhibitions and recently juried exhibitions for Artworks Downtown in Marin and Arc Gallery in San Francisco. Currently she is the gallery manager for Transmission Gallery and Exhibitions Director at GearBox Gallery, both in Oakland.
Like Bing Zhang, Lee employs art making strategies involving the interplay of chance, intention, and precise execution, though with a very different outcome.
Primarily culling imagery from magazines, giftwrap, flyers and other readily available papers, there is an undirected aspect to how the material comes to hand, none of it purchased directly by the artist. Rather it has been perused, considered, and discarded by someone else, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. Once acquired, the nature of the paper itself contributes to unexpected outcomes. Some pages tear cleanly across, others jag and stutter or arc away, curving beyond the artist’s control.
As swales of torn bits and pieces pile up, Lee retrieves fragments from the debris, assembling them into a new and somewhat mysterious order. Carefully considering shape, color, the spaces between, and of course the imagery, she pins them up in relationship to each other, moving them around on her wall until they coalesce exactly so, a poem sparingly written, underlying social critique intended.
Altogether the process relies on a tremendous amount of time, training and practice, the artist’s and the efforts of the publishers, reporters, writers, photographers and graphic designers, those working menial labor in the papermills, those who make the ink and those who prep the print run, the distributers, and mail carriers, all the individuals along the way that touched or influenced each little bit of paper.
All that is obliquely present in the work, though often unremarked when considering the delicate and tenuous nature of Lee’s fragmentary installations. Her work here in Commuter comments on concepts of class, connection, technology, and presence.
GearBox Gallery is an artist-run contemporary art space located at 770 W. Grand Ave, Oakland, directly below the well-established Transmission Gallery. We are a member of Oakland Art Murmur, which promotes Oakland arts and sponsors events, including the famous First Friday Art Walks.
GearBox Gallery is dedicated to showcasing the work of its members and a broad range of regional contemporary guest artists, fostering community and education through intellectual and cultural exchange focused on the visual arts. As part of our mission, we host an annual juried exhibition. This year more than 160 artists entered more than 450 pieces with work by 40 artists selected for the exhibition.
This is GearBox Gallery’s 75th exhibition in Oakland. See the work in person Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 5 pm, September 15th through October 15th, 2022, at 770 West Grand Ave. in Oakland. Also, open 5-8 pm on the First Friday of the month.