Michael Pauker’s “Reckless Wrecks and Reclaimed Reliquaries”, on exhibit at the Branner-Spangenberg Gallery until September 15, 2017 [opening reception: Friday, September 8; 5:30-8:30 P.M.], meets the viewer with four monumental works in progress, wall-size paintings with a variety of objects, ranging from painted-over brushes, tubes and other artists’ supplies to cigar boxes, household supplies, and other canvases, often facing backwards and inscribed with notes and sketches. A few smaller images, similarly utilizing plywood and other materials, are also displayed, and a tackle box with fisherman’s gear and a plaster life mask of the artist round out the exhibit.
Mr. Pauker, a New York native and well-established Bay Area artist who teaches art history and other art-related subjects at Stanford and a number of other colleges on the Peninsula, also has a twenty-year retrospective at the Menlo College Art Gallery [9-5 M-F, until November 15; opening reception Tuesday, September 12, 5-7 P.M.]. With regard to the current work on exhibit at Branner-Spangenberg, he describes his process as essentially driven by the creative act itself and not focused on or commemorating any particular narrative theme or content. This contrasts sharply with some of the groupings at the Menlo College exhibit: large, somber portraits, paintings of faces cut in half by the bottom edge of the canvas, scenes suggesting mythology or folk tales, drawings of a bad Santa Claus terrifying children, thematic repetitions of side views of human brain, various postage stamps — some attached in verso, and illustrations from old books.
One can easily anticipate the work exemplified by the current Branner-Spangenberg exhibit reaching its own high renaissance; its outflowing axial era. Earlier groupings of Mr Pauker’s work have a sense of being painted over, of a solidified surface corresponding to the picture plane, with various images rising from behind like objects floating up through the thin ice of a pond in late winter. In the current paintings, objects have fully transected the picture plane and protrude in some cases several inches beyond the surface.
Further clues are supplied by the presence, in Mr. Paulker’s purely abstract, un-collaged works, of discrete, well-delineated shapes, typically repeated in various iterations throughout the pieces themselves. Similarly, some of his most recent work at the Menlo College exhibit demonstrates a return to the figurative, a focus not present in all artists yet one which has seemingly returned at various times throughout his career.
Leon Tolstoy was a grand master of the concrete, and his famous description of a horse lowering its head to drink from a trough and then shaking droplets in the air while raising its head was arguably more suffused with a sense of the real, the present, the now, than that exemplified by any other writer. In an era of movies supplanted by television supplanted by computer screens supplanted by mobile devices, Michael Pauker’s work celebrates the real and eschews decadence, a procession of the noumenal on the walls of the gallery. It will be fascinating to see how how it plays out.