Works Gallery
Artist Information

Maija Peeples-Bright

Sam Spano

Dinner for Two

Opening Reception: Saturday, January 20th, 2018, 6:00pm – 9:00pm

Exhibition Dates: January 20th – February 24th, 2018

A visit to Maija Peeples-Bright’s home, quietly nestled in an unassuming Sacramento suburb is an exercise in the slow reveal.  Pulling up to the artist’s house, one begins to see clues of an artist’s life poking out–a distant Robert Arneson head stares back at parked cars, and playful ceramic planters adorn the outside hinting at the absolute cacophony of color, humor and energy that awaits the unsuspecting visitor. If you are so lucky to be honored as a guest, you can likely expect Maija to welcome you at the door, smiling gleefully and bedecked in a vibrant painted sweater and set of shoes. The artist’s home, among other things, is an absolute marvel in hanging, as it seems that every potential empty space is occupied by a stunning work by the artist or one of her contemporaries. And this notion of every square inch being covered, speaks metaphorically to the ways in which art operates, or rather seems to have saturated not only her surroundings but every waking facet of the artist’s life and surroundings.  Simply put, Maija Peeples-Bright art is an immersive and lived-practice to the highest degree.

Born in 1942 in Riga, Latvia, amidst both Soviet and Nazi invasions; Maija spent many of her early years in a guarded refugee camp, until the time when the family was able to flee, landing amidst the bucolic pastures of sunny Sacramento. While enrolled at UC Davis, a requisite art class taught by William T. Wiley was all that it took to change Peeples-Bright from math to art major.  Upon completing her graduate studies at UC Davis, the artist and her husband at the time artist and poet David Zack, purchased a house on Steiner St. in the Haight which Maija proceeded to paint completely in and out.  The exterior was bedecked in every color of Dutch Boy paint in production, and the inside was adorned floor to ceiling with sprawling murals featuring Maija’s rollicking cast of “beasts”–it’s own kind of funkified Sistine Chapel.  What became known as the “Rainbow House” served as a critical meeting place and open forum for the exchange of ideas between artists from Roy de Forest to Jay DeFeo to R. Crumb. Peeples-Bright’s first show was at the legendary Candy Store Gallery in Folsom California, run by Adeliza McHugh and operating between 1962-1992, featuring shows by a slew of artists from Robert Arneson and Roy De Forest to Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt. For more than five decades now, Maija has continued to devote herself entirely to her work, teeming with its cornucopia of “beasts” and wild fantastical realms, without slowing down one bit.

If Peeples-Bright’s “Rainbow House” is any indication, the artist is absolutely fearless in the face of a daunting project, and completely unhindered by any conventions that might serve to limit the expansiveness of her roaming spirit. Just as her maximalist paintings covered and seeped into every open space and dark crevice of the famous house in the Haight, this vivacious unstoppable energy carries forth through everything she touches–from the frame of a work adorned with layers of saturated paint and patches of fur, to the artist’s shoes and even the plastic license plate holders of her Toyota minivan. There’s little credence paid to stuffier notions of high and low, both in subject matter and function, as the artist’s playfully ornate ceramic lamp is treated with the same sense of importance and love as any painting could ever be.  And through this there rings a real vitality and energy within the wild and wooly world that Maija coaxes forth from every work she creates.  The furry, scaly and hairy creatures that the artist calls forth and which populate her beautifully fantastic worlds form not only a refuge for the minds of the artist and viewer from any besetting darkness, but carry and outwardly reflect the same sense of love, joy and affection that the artist places in their creation.

Much of Oakland-based painter Sam Spano’s recent work has centered around a subject with a long history winding throughout the works of a lineage of Bay Area painters including Maija Peeples-Bright–that of the dog. And while their works both depict dogs in a variety of ways, Spano’s paintings don’t share the same frenetic energy and exuberance portrayed within Peeples-Bright’s works, instead tending towards a darker more psychological space where dogs or their wilier wolf cousins seem to operate as an avatar for the artist.  The artist’s lush oil paintings often feel rooted in fantastical narrative, which is fitting given Spano is currently working on a poem illustrated by oil paintings to be released as a children’s book. The focus of the book revolves around a dog’s dream, which was also the title and basis of his most recent show at 100% Gallery.

The paintings within Dinner for Two capitalize on the mythological themes winding throughout Spano’s work. Some leaning more on the side of the classics, with the huddled couple surrounded by ethereal beasts in tones of deep purples and greens within “Escape from the Underworld (2)”, reminiscent of the harrowing journey of Orpheus and Eurydice. Others feel rooted in a story purely of the artist’s own making, much like the “Wrestler” which features an amorphous fleshy yellow figure entangled in a straining headlock with a scraggly cat twice their size. But if Spano’s most direct painting, “The Date”, is any indication, the artist always retains a sly sense of humor. The unsuspecting victim within the painting slinks backwards, clutching for safety to a wine glass as an unkempt and overzealous wolf leans in with an advance of unreciprocated hunger. And as Spano winds saturated narratives through this adept grouping of paintings, we’re left wondering that if “The Date” is as potentially fraught as Spano seems to suggest what strange horrors might a “Dinner for Two” include?