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Chillida’s Art Again Marks the Devastation of Guernica

Eduardo Chillida’s comprehensive show here two years ago helped bolster his recognition in this country as an artist of consummate elegance, a sculptor who handles space as gracefully as he does solids.

The Basque sculptor’s massive steel works were shown to share the same pictographic simplicity as his smallest line drawings. Working with a consistent vocabulary of planar surfaces and geometric excisions, he has created a body of work that is consistently appealing.

In his current show at the Tasende Gallery (820 Prospect St., through Oct. 29), Chillida’s craft reveals an added dimension, an explicit historical consciousness that shapes both his forms and their interpretation. The show, “Birth of a Monument,” focuses on Chillida’s creation of a large-scale work, commissioned by the Basque government, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the devastation of the town of Gernika (Guernica in Spanish) during the Spanish Civil War.

In addition to a 5-foot-high working model in steel of the monument (which reaches a height of more than 30 feet and is made of poured concrete), the show includes small steel variants on the work’s basic shape, drawings and a series of delicate paper collages. Basic to Chillida’s work, across all media, is an exploration of the dialogue between positive and negative space. In “Gure Aitaren Etxea: Our Father’s House,” the name of monument and its model, this formal dialogue carries with it rich emotional and historical associations.

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The model’s thick steel wall curves to gently encompass the viewer and impart a feeling of security and shelter. The heart of the curve, however, is missing, as if space itself had taken a clean bite out of the surrounding steel. The void is framed neatly, with lively curves, a remote metaphor for the violent disruption that shattered Gernika’s Basque community.

In its full scale, the physical impact of the monument must be considerably greater, but in either size, Chillida’s work remains a pensive reminder of tragedy, in contrast to Picasso’s famous mural, “Guernica.” Picasso, painting immediately after the bombing, captured the horror of the actual event. Chillida, 50 years later, prompts a quieter meditation on the enduring loss brought about by the catastrophe.

This subdued tone prevails in the accompanying work as well, especially in Chillida’s “suspended collages,” made of overlapping sheets of subtly textured paper, but the underlying passion that informs “Gure Aitaren Etxea” does not reappear.

A striking, cinematic quality distinguishes David Baze’s strongest paintings, on view at United States International University’s Walter Library (10455 Pomerado Road., through Oct. 30). Like film stills, they tease and tempt with promises of drama, but never reveal the sources of the intrigue. Narratives are implied but never spelled out. Instead, figures are isolated in spare, dark rooms, all but devoid of contextual clues.

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“In the Holocene,” for instance, features a young man, crouching, coffee cup in hand, illuminated solely by a clip-on lamp resting on the floor and shining directly on him. His compact figure throws a hulking shadow on the wall just behind him, and his distracted gaze wanders far beyond the picture’s frame. The theatrical quality of the shallow setting and looming physical presence also characterizes “Tony and Riva.”

Here, a young man in fatigues, completely outfitted for war, bends down to adjust a boot. Behind him, a young woman crouches to watch what appears to be a game show on a television that sits on the floor. Although they share the same spare, shallow space--made even more compressed by Baze’s tight framing--they fail to make contact. Each, Baze seems to suggest, is too busily engaged in his or her own senseless game.

Baze, a new resident of San Diego and a drawing instructor at Grossmont and Southwestern Colleges, paints these stark scenes with bold, sketchy strokes that grant a degree of independence to color and line. Several of the paintings have a quality of light and loneliness that harks back to the work of Edward Hopper.

Baze crops the scenes for optimal dynamism, shutting out extraneous detail and keeping a tight hold on the mysterious, yet mundane movements of the characters within. Omission is one of the keys to the quiet tension in Baze’s best work. It should have guided the selections for this show as well. Instead, these powerful paintings--of which there are fewer than a dozen--are surrounded by twice as many weaker works, burdened by convention or simply a lackluster sense of composition.

These lesser works, portraits, studies from the nude and figures in environments, lack the freshness of the other works. Their surfaces feel cluttered with definition, and in painting them, Baze has temporarily forgotten about the dynamic potential of a picture’s edges. Their subjects are often seen from great distances, so that the idiosyncrasies that fill the frame in the stronger works here shrink into the backgrounds.


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