Bright Lights, Gloomy Cities – Four Artists show together at MichaelKate

 "Amtrak Bath" 'THomas Van Stein Brad Nack

“Amtrak Bath” ‘THomas Van Stein
Brad Nack

Several months ago, Brad Nack brought four abstract artists to MichaelKate Interiors, each dealing in their own way with topography. After that, another quartet dealt with flight and birds. But this month’s exhibition, “Bright Lines and the Void” (through June 30), complicates matters further with a disparate selection of paintings from four vastly different artists. Thomas Van Stein’s nocturnal landscapes; John Carlander’s bold abstracts; Hilary Baker’s enigmatic yet representational work; and Norman Lundin’s witty realism — this is a conversation between four distinct personalities, and like a great dinner party, it’s worth sitting in and checking out what comes up.

Mr. Lundin comes from the grey climes of Seattle and you can see it in his paintings, as if somebody had told Edward Hopper to tone down the color and get the people out of the room. These are interiors and exteriors (sometimes both, seen through windows) honoring still moments on endless overcast and wet days. I say witty, because check out “Sun Break, Studio” which only shows its sun through a thin strip of light that defines the shadows on the window sill. The rest, from our perspective, is yet another gloomy, almost smoky day, looking out across the landscape in search of a horizon. These are the funereal rooms of Tarkovsky and Bergman, where time has slowed down, crawled, and given up. On the other hand, the entropy is so finely rendered that the paintings energize in a perverse way.

'The Great Carbuncle (after Hawthorne),' Hilary Baker
‘The Great Carbuncle (after Hawthorne),’ Hilary Baker
'Sun Break, Studio,' Norman Lundin
‘Sun Break, Studio,’ Norman Lundin
Local “urban nocturne” painter and SBCC prof Mr. Van Stein goes further and waits until the sun is out of sight, though his Santa Barbara and Ventura county landscapes burn with the lights of human activity, industry, and commerce. Mr. Van Stein has adapted plein air techniques to painting at night, and has left the artist with plenty of stories with interesting run-ins with folks at 3 a.m. in the morning. His “Steam Plant Nocturne,” one of the show’s largest works, will be recognizable to anyone who has driven past the Oxnard industrial site on their way north, a glowing building creating vertical clouds. Other scenes: railway crossings, La Conchita, bridges, freeways. These align him with photographer Michael Kenna, who’s made a living of staying up way past his bedtime to create mysterious art.

Hilary Baker’s work recalls the work of illustrator Mary Blair or the backgrounds of UPA animations of the ’50s, pleasing geometric shapes recalling boulders, trees, fabric spools, which a narrow color palette, usually against black in her “Memorial” series, or against bold, contrasting colors in her “Rubble” series, the titles of which allude to stones and minerals. The paintings a large with dramatic, definite strokes, and feel comfortable in their questioning nature, calming the viewer.

Finally, Westmont’s John Carlander takes the swath of colors found in Matisse’s late prints and rethinks it for his own abstract concerns. Some of the works are orderly and sharp, others take the same scheme and make the brush work known, colors interrupting each other. By themselves, the narrow focus would reduce the impact of the whole. But with Mr. Nack interspersing these paintings among the rest, he’s provided breathing room for the ideas colliding in this delightful show.

‘Bright Lines and the Void’
When: Through June 30, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. Closed Wed.
Where: MichaelKate Interiors, 132 Santa Barbara St.
Cost: Free
Information: or 963-1411

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