“Greetings and Visitations”
Meet the Artists and Creatures Featured in the New Exhibit at Panorama Framing
This week, artists Wesley Timms and Peter Odum (a.k.a. Monkeynaut) are filling The Gallery@Panorama Framing (3350 Grand Ave.) with robots, aliens, and sea creatures doing odd things in delightfully unexpected situations. Their joint “Greetings and Visitations” exhibit is opening in time for the Grand Lake First Thursday Art Walk on March 1st. You will be delighted by the skill and humor of these creative locals. A reception with the artists will be held from 6-8 pm on March 1st. They will also be on hand for a mid-show reception on April 5th.
Both featured artists draw inspiration from science fiction and video games. Timms’s work incorporates his interpretation of science fiction creatures in 1950s films and video games like “Destroy All Humans,” which he played endlessly as a kid. Many of his ideas arise from imagining what robots do at home in their everyday lives. Monkeynaut is inspired by the streamlined industrial design of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as by video games and robotics. As a robotics designer, he spends much of his time at work thinking about robot-human interactions; in his retro-futurist art, he finds humor in the awkward meetings between people and machines.
More about Wesley Timms
Can you start life prematurely weighing in at an unimaginably tiny 1 lb. 4 oz. with doctors doubting whether you will ever walk or talk, spend the first year of your life in intensive care at Children’s Hospital, survive multiple intestinal surgeries as an infant, permanently lose the ability to see out of your right eye, and still grow up to become an artist?
Oakland illustrator Wesley Timms is here – in fine form, with an Academy of Art University degree – to tell us, “Yes!” (though, from his experience, classes on perspective in art school are a little extra challenging with only one reliable eye). If that infant’s mother is herself an illustrator who decides not to have any more children because of what you both went through in that first year but wants you to be able to entertain yourself without siblings, by golly you’ll learn how to draw. And you’ll love it – because you are drawn to it (pun!) and because you love your mother more than anyone else in the world. And that’s how Timms became an artist.
But, Timms explains, “I am not a tortured artist. I grew up in a family full of art and laughter, so I think there is humor in my pieces, even though the subject matter is sometimes serious. I find humor in the characters I see in my environment.” It is this humor—and the fact that Timms is a “genuine, warm, and friendly amazing person who has been a real joy to work with”—that led Patrick Cheatham, owner of Panorama Framing, to invite Timms to exhibit his work in the gallery’s “Signs of Resistance” show last year and again for the “Greetings and Visitations” show opening this week. Cheatham appreciates the “real illustrative quality” of Timms’s work, especially how he “captures people’s expressions, bodies, and movement in space.”
How did Timms—who considers himself an activist—get politicized? When his mother’s job with the phone company relocated to Elk Grove, just south of Sacramento and a world away from Oakland, the young Timms and his grandmother moved there, too. As one of a handful of non-white kids in that politically conservative school district, he experienced middle school and high school from the social periphery and became keenly aware of his identity. When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Wesley’s mother picked him up from school so the family could watch (and cry through) the historic inauguration on TV together at home, after learning that the school was not planning to screen the event.
After high school, Timms decided to attend the Academy of Art in San Francisco. By then, his mother had retired from the phone company (as had his grandmother years before), so the family decided to move back to Oakland. Once settled in their new home in the Laurel District, Timms remembers, “it was like we never left.” The diversity in Oakland, and at the Academy, were refreshing and inspiring to the budding artist.
Timms imagined that life as a student at the Academy of Art would involve a lot of wearing of berets and drinking of tea. As an illustration major, however, he had to make it through tough classes like anatomy and digital graphics. Luckily for him, a Black Student Union was created in 2015; without it, he might never have known the other African-American students at the Academy, whose facilities are scattered across the city. These students—working in different media—inspired one another politically and artistically. Although he has finished his A.A. degree, Timms still attends the BSU meetings, as well as events sponsored by The Black Bay Area, an organization committed to “retaining Black space and culture in the Bay Area.”
Timms now works with school kids at Studio One Art Center in Temescal. Trump was elected during his first week on the job, and the novice teacher found himself in a school full of crying children (and adults). He immediately set to work figuring out how to use art to empower people to express their feelings. (Timms admits that Trump has helped his art: “It hasn’t been fun, but it has inspired me.”) He loves his job and may return to the Academy of Art to get a teaching credential.
More about Monkeynaut
Peter Odum grew up in Dallas, where he attended an Arts Magnet High School and earned college degrees in Art and Art History. He came to the Bay Area in 1996 and has mostly worked in tech, including video game design and artificial intelligence. Eventually, Odum felt he wanted to channel his time and energy outside of work into making art again, rather than gaming. So, a few years ago, he created a persona called Monkeynaut, and his art took a sharp turn away from the traditional plein air oil landscapes of his past.
The current exhibit at Panorama features Odum’s first color work as Monkeynaut, which (who?) has thus far concentrated on black-and-white linocut prints. The new works are actually paint-overs of cheap paintings, photographs, and prints that Monkeynaut finds in thrift shops. He enhances these sorry cast-offs with clean mid-century additions and sci-fi themes, resulting in humorous juxtapositions that recast familiar scenes in surprising ways. The combination of fine technique and playful fantasy is delightful. For example, in “Swinging Robot” above, the lovely lady of Jean Honoré Fragonard’s original 18th-century painting, “The Swing,” has been replaced by a Gumby-esque robot.
Likewise, under Monkeynaut’s influence, an old print of Hans Holbein’s portrait of King Henry VIII has physically merged with the ultimate king, T. Rex, and “The Steeplechase” has become “The Peoplechase,” in which the upper crust is now the underdog. And (why not?!), an innocent “paint by numbers” scene finds itself embraced in the tentacles of an enormous blue octopus.
Finally, behold a thrift store photograph of a placid purplish sea that has been given a new lease on life as “The Baleful Eye of the Deep” with Monkeynaut’s inspired addition of a “furry, mossy beast thing.”
The future may be digital and automated, but there is still plenty of room for and appreciation of good old-fashioned painting and illustration (and humorous representations of technology) in small gallery spaces like our own Panorama, for which Timms and Monkeynaut (and the neighborhood) are most grateful.
The Gallery@Panorama Framing—which will celebrate its 5th anniversary on St. Patrick’s Day—currently represents 50+ artists throughout Oakland and the greater Bay Area. The Gallery rotates bi-monthly exhibitions of local artists with monthly receptions in conjunction with the Grand Avenue First Thursday Art Walks. Additionally, the gallery offers a variety of original works, artist prints, and photographs.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Keila Diehl is a cultural anthropologist who enjoys doing fieldwork with interesting “natives” in her own Oakland neighborhood.