by Kenneth Baker
Bay Area artist Katina Huston has long used the immemorial technique of casting shadows to generate images.
We might expect her to have exhausted this practice, or the fascination it can produce, quite quickly. But her recent work at Dolby Chadwick shows her pushing her aesthetic to new levels of intensity and suggestiveness.
The figural anchor of most of the pieces here is a human skeleton whose shadow details - ribs, skull, limbs - we recognize with a shudder. The fluid entanglements in an ink on Mylar piece such as Nasturtium With Gold (2014) postpone that recognition, inviting us to contemplate the work at first as an abstraction or a scrambled botanical.
Skulls have a long history in Western art as memento mori - reminders of mortality. Huston continues in this line, adding the metaphor of death as a shadow negating the light of conscious aliveness. She gives aliveness its due not through metaphor but by the vivifying effect of her works' optical richness.
In several new pieces, Huston has incorporated patches of plaid fabric pattern that suggest surrogate skins, where they intrude among skeletal details, or the clothing of consciousness in everyday inattention to the viscera that support it.
Morbid insinuations recede in a few works in which Huston used shadowed sprigs of slash pine, with an echo of antique Asian art, to generate forms that look like bursting fireworks.
But those insinuations return in force in a large horizontal work that displays the full skeleton, recalling the early prints that Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) built around full body X-rays.
Huston's art seems to contain little in the way of topical reference, but her work gains urgency from it exhorting us to scrutiny without fear, a discipline increasingly necessary in a culture bent on blinding itself with childish distractions.