When Sarah Hotchkiss began a series of black-and-white graphic paintings as nursery gifts for new parent friends, one recipient called the designs “Baby LSD.”
“High-contrast images stimulate brain development,” says Hotchkiss, a San Francisco-based painter who also works as an editor for KQED Arts & Culture. “Babies’ eyes will bug out when they look at black-and-white patterns. It’s really cute.”
The group of 12×12 inch, square paintings were created to adorn nursery walls after many of her friends began having babies. She recalls another friend half-joking: “‘You’re indoctrinating these babies into your visual language!’”
Hotchkiss is one of three artists with work featured in ICA San Jose’s group show Altered Perception, which opened at the end of March and runs through August 13. The exhibition pays homage to the work of Op Art (or “Optical Art”) legend Bridget Riley, who painted her best known work in the 1960s—her “hard edge” painting style of flat colors with clear lines contributed to the optical-illusion, “trippy” graphics synonymous with aesthetics of the era.
Riley, who turned 92 in April, made history in 1968 when she became the first woman (and first contemporary British painter) to win the Venice Biennale. Altered Perception features three Bay Area artists—Hotchkiss, Lordy Rodriguez and Susie Taylor—each with a particular approach in common with Riley’s oeuvre.
It was the combination of compositional abstraction and clear, bold shapes lend to the type of common-sense communication that make Op Art feel so “modern”—picture books, board games and road signs all work from similarly straightforward visual cues. The second series from which Hotchkiss shows work in Altered Perception is based on test pattern images for film and TV.
“The optical graphics we use to fine-tune machines are really interesting to humanize,” Hotchkiss says of that series, whose paintings vary in shape and size.
Across the gallery, the drawings of Lordy Rodriguez take the visual language of maps to new perspectives. Much of Rodriguez’s portfolio focuses on maps and geography. The 2020 series “Protests and Marches” depicts historical protest routes alongside the routes of forced death marches in Borneo and the Philippines, the artist’s birth country.
Rodriguez’s work in Altered Perception also includes a complex, subverted-tribute to his childhood in the American South: Untitled 810 (Catholic Redneck) uses a broken-up, recursive pattern of the Confederate flag as its background. In his overview notes for the show, Rodriguez writes:
“I didn’t know what it represented or even who it was for, but because of shows like the Dukes of Hazzard, country music, and good ol’ Southern pride, it became a symbol of home. This drawing became an attempt to trace the histories of the visual elements and mix it with my own history […] the influence of the Scotch Irish as immigrants to the South brought Catholicism (a similarity I saw within my own immigration), represented by the gold and silver taken from the papal crown. The rhinestones reflect to a time when I lived [and worked] in Brooklyn with my sister’s husband’s family that immigrated from Vietnam and owned a nail salon.”
Often, Rodriguez’s work takes a looser, more interpretive approach to maps. Untitled 787 (70’s Couch) was inspired by “this couch by the side of the road….that I created a whole narrative around, almost automatically,” the artist notes. “I wanted to see if I could recreate that automation by replacing the couch with a map of an island that had a shape that resembled the backing of the couch I saw.”
The invocation of upholstery on 70s Couch provides a curatorial segue to the literal textile work of Susie Taylor. Taylor’s 2021 Linescape series consists of nine square weavings, each a different color variation on a simple geometric design. Similarly, the black-and-white psychedelic shapes of her pieces X-ray Folds and RIPPLE evoke classic Op Art elements in a fairly nontraditional medium for the genre.
“Meeting Susie has been amazing because we have a lot of similar interests in terms of source material,” Hotchkiss says. “She says ‘if I were a painter, I would paint like you,’ and I say ‘If I were a weaver, I would make work like yours!’”
Through Aug 13
Open Thu-Sun, 12-5pm, Free
ICA San Jose