Cork Marcheschi
at Braunstein/Quay Gallery
San Francisco, California
Review by Cherie Louise Turner

Inside the darkened gallery space is a calming, colorful array of work by Bay Area–based Cork Marcheschi, all aglow. This exhibition, “Cabinet of Curiosities,” is a mini-retrospective for the artist, who has been working in the medium of light since 1968. Many of the works are recent or current (2009–2011); they are interspersed with pieces going back to 1969. Along the way, we see clear shifts in style and interest as Marcheschi investigated the breadth of his chosen medium.

None of the pieces flash or move — at least not without human interaction. The 1975 “Oasis” creates a sizzling electrical current when a pedal is pushed, and “Jujubees” (1970–1990) gently reacts to touch with increasing intensity of light. The overall effect is quiet and meditative; it comes as no surprise that the artist is a longtime practitioner of Zen Buddhism, which he studied under Alan Watts.

Several current works utilize colored marbles fit snugly in holes cut out of an aluminum box; the light from inside the box shines through the marbles to create a soft glow. With titles such as “Position of the Stars the Night Lenny Bruce Died” (2010) and “Constellation #1” (2009), there are clear references to starry skies, which several of these works resemble. The use of marbles evokes memories of childhood.

Light is also used to commemorate those who have passed. Two of the most recent pieces are memorials to the artist’s dog Ruby. “Blues for Max” (1992), a child’s chair that stands on lightbulbs to produce a ghostly glow, as well as the two neon squares, “Mantle Paratrooper’s Last Jump” and “Goodbye Uncle Buddy 13 and 14” (both from 1980) commemorate people now deceased.

Marcheschi’s style has ranged from color-casting minimalist geometric neon work that calls to mind Dan Flavin, to complex, funky and funny pieces. The latter label fits a work of backlit steel that has been plasma cut with lively cartoony images whose shadows dance chaotically on the wall, recalling William T. Wiley and H. C. Westermann. Such references there may be, but this is an artist who, ultimately, is doing his own thing. That thing is by turns playful, sad, inspirational, and peaceful. Light can do all that.

Cork Marcheschi at Braunstein Quay
February 7th, 2011

Currently at Braunstein Quay Gallery, Cork Marcheschi celebrates his 40-year artistic career with a solo show, ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ containing art objects from 1970 to 2011. By using a single medium in myriad forms and from disparate inspirations, Marcheschi’s body of work illustrates that by methods of translation and appropriation throughout an artist’s life, art will successfully evolve and continue to be relevant and inspirational to its audience over any span of time.

Whether it runs through aluminum towers set with marbles or laser cut with symbolic images, pellet-like neon bulbs in a blown-glass bowl, or wrought glowing neon lights in a rainbow of colors, electricity retains its affinity for Marcheschi for its many capabilities. Marcheschi writes in his autobiography, Portrait of the Artist as an Outlaw, “Energy is the material that I solo on. I understand this stuff intuitively and I’m very comfortable taking things apart and looking inside.” To reach forty years of successful art-making the artist must choose a medium that cannot control the artwork, but to that the artist can continually relate. Not only does he have a technical affinity to the material, he writes figuratively that electricity “has to be happy, because if it isn’t it’ll find ways to mess up everything around it.” It’s an interesting choice of words to be read in many ways. The electric art itself may be a process of discovery in many ways: literally closing circuits of rampant, frenetic energy to reach both literal and figuratively positive resolutions.

Nearly every piece in Marcheschi’s body of work is rife with a process of interpretation and re-presentation. Combining both a comprehensive education in art history and an emotional response from dreams, Marcheschi raises faded memories to the surface with bright neon lights. His private library consists of an impressive array of artist monographs and volumes of critical art theory and history, with healthy sections in Dadaism, Futurism and Abstract Expressionism. Dadaism and the assemblage art of Joseph Cornell are apparent in the dream-scapes of the ‘Ruby’ series. The work combines these scholastic influences with heightened emotional subconscious memories created by the personal tragedy of a lost pet.

The color field squares are a highlight of the show. Combining Rothko‘s color field technique and Josef Albers‘ Homage to the Square, Marcheschi propels ideas from these artists once believed to be immutable to a completely new level by change of time and material for a contemporary audience. This work proves truly successful art is the result of a process in which concepts of art history and one’s own personal art process are not only learnt from critically, but also responded to in a new direction to create art that is both novel and approachable to a new audience. This is a technique not only Marcheschi does in his work in response to others, but also to his own work. Channelling the energies in different expressions over 40 years, Marcheschi’s work continues to glow brightly.

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Cork Marcheschi at Braunstein/Quay –
Art in America
by David Ebony

These days a darkened art gallery usually portends an encounter with the ubiquitous video projection installation. Not so with this refreshing exhibition of mostly recent works by Bay Area light sculptor Cork Marcheschi. Filling several rooms, the show, titled “Electrical Energy in Space,” included nine works from 2000 and a single mural-size piece from 1975, which served as a reminder of the long career that the San Mateo-born artist, now 55, already has to his credit.

Most of the recent works feature children’s wooden furniture and toys, wired for electricity and outfitted with white or colored neon, incandescent bulbs or LED lights situated in unexpected places such as the bottoms of table or chair legs, or along the curved rockers of a hobbyhorse. Each object’s eerie glow suggests a ghostly presence; the works are strangely moving, even if one is unaware, as I was when I first saw them, that they were inspired by a fatal accident. Marcheschi dedicated the series to a little neighborhood boy, Max, who drowned in the artist’s garden fishpond while he was away, working in Singapore.

In the series, Marcheschi, a follower of Zen (he was a pupil of writer Alan Watts), wished to deal in a general way with absence and loss by concentrating on the image of an empty chair. “Blues for Max” is a plain white pine chair with each leg ending in a clear lightbulb. From a distance, the chair appears to hover several inches above the ground. This stark object contrasts with a more elaborate but equally powerful work, “Music in the Keys of M.” Here, a wooden chair has been covered with numerous impressions of keys burned into the wood with a kind of branding iron, a reference to Max’s love of keys. Actual keys are glued upright onto lightbulbs fixed to the top of each side of the chair’s back. Among the most elegiac pieces in the series are Phantom, a glowing hobbyhorse whose rockers are trimmed in blue neon, and “Birdhouse Becomes Coffin”, an elongated, 60-inch-high, wall-mounted box with a single small round opening, which is trimmed along the edges by narrow bands of red and yellow neon.

Displayed alone in a large room, the abstract light mural from 1975, “Self-Portrait of the Artist as Outlaw”, features some 100 white fluorescent tubes arranged in a diamond shape. Visitors could step on a floor pedal to activate a charge that dispatches crackling sparks which ascend pairs of long wires suspended from the ceiling a few inches in front of the tubes. In turn, the neon gas reacts to the electrical charges, resulting in a glowing and pulsating white diamond. A striking example of Marcheschi’s early achievements, the mural playfully contrasts with the more introspective recent works.