James Van Arsdale - Artist - Santa Barbara, California

Another artist in Bloom - Van Arsdale latest in project showcasing emerging talent


ART REVIEW - Friday, August 10, 2007, Scene Magazine, Santa Barbara News-Press

Games are clearly being played in a corner of the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, but not necessarily the ones that might be expected. James Van Arsdale's "(Safe Inside My) Green Zone" is a brightly colored installation that references board games, with shapes splashed genially on the walls. Overall, the effect is that of a conceptual piece playing fast and loose with notions and imagery of safety, military volatility, party-time and leisure in the face of impending doom.

Van Arsdale, Austin, Texas-born and Santa Barbara-based, is the latest to be featured in the Forum's Bloom Projects series, dedicated to emerging artists. And, like many of the artists who have landed in this corner, he brings a playful irony and conceptual juxtaposition of light and dark to his work.

This art is not about feeling safe. On the contrary, it's about the anxieties of life post-9/11 and during the country's extended engagement in the Middle East. Of course, the "green zone" Van Arsdale uses is a military term referring to a presumed high-security area within a military hot area, such as the one in Baghdad.

This artist's crafty ideas are evident even before entering the gallery space. In the window space outside the Forum, Van Arsdale shows a mock-minimalist series of cast plastic objects. They look like rainbow-colored Popsicles, but are shaped as hand grenades. This art is, pardon the pun, loaded.

Dark and strangely enchanting provocations continue inside the space. Red, green and orange plastic pieces are placed on shaped wooden boards, as if a relative of the Life board game. Large shapes that in a more innocent setting would be generic tree shapes instead imply nuclear clouds. Wavy painted forms overlap the walls, suggesting pleasant decorative touches, questionable vapors and implications of artillery's aftermath.

Mixing childish games and toy chest-suitable artifacts with the portents of war might seem like a clever ploy, but a ploy nonetheless. Somehow, though, the artist applies enough craft and savvy to soften the blow, avoiding a label of too obvious.

For one thing, Van Arsdale's art emphasizes the point that the sinister aspects of war gaming are endemic in America, in the video-game industry and in actual war rooms. With the recent advent of robotic bombing raids in Iraq, the connections between virtual, joystick-driven mayhem and actual death and destruction are all the more chillingly aligned.

Van Arsdale's scary, cheeky art is right on time, and in sync with a world where fun and fatality are linked more than could have been imagined years ago.



When: Through Aug. 26
Where: Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo. Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Information: 966-5373, www.sbcaf.org

Art review in News-Press - James Van Arsdale
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