Kerry Damianakes

Chocolate Cake Vanilla Frosting for Dessert, oil pastel on paper, 25” x 15”, 2015

Tomato Noodle Soup For Lunch, oil pastel on paper, 19” x 24”, 2011

Eggplants, oil pastel on paper, 22” x 30”, 2014

Hamburger Sandwich, oil pastel on paper, 22” x 30”, 1993

Turkey and Cheese and Tomato and Lettuce Sandwich, oil pastel on paper, 22” x 30”, 1990

Over the past 35 years, Oakland-based artist Kerry Damianakes has amassed an extensive body of unconventional and playful works directly informed by her desire to reproduce the everyday. Damianakes remains primarily committed to an ongoing series of velvety oil pastel drawings - faithful tributes to foods that alternately elicit a state of well-being or decadence.

From a distance, fields of saturated color are boldly outlined in black and appear flat, but a closer look reveals her idiosyncratic application of pastel. The nature of Damianakes’ hand is such that her gestural marks occupy the entire surface in a way that would seem assertive when filling a sheet of Letter-size paper. In fact, most of these works are almost three times that size; images of Damianakes’ works fail to communicate their scale and stunning monumentality. Central in each reductive and pragmatic composition is a slice of cake, sandwich, or soup bowl of imposing bulk and volume, exaggerated much larger than actual size. Damianakes diligently documents each completed drawing with handwritten dates and titles indicating specific meals, often to accompany certain holidays - Chicken Noodle Soup for Lunch for New Year’s, Chocolate Cake Vanilla Frosting for Dessert, and Grilled Cheese Sandwich Potato Chips Cottage Cheese for Lunch for Labor Day.

Damianakes’ dedication to the familiar, typically recreations of what Creative Growth describes as “classic foods”, tend to garner comparisons to pop art. The subject matter isn’t just ubiquitous, however, but also highly evocative of comfort and indulgence, including various iterations of chocolate cake, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and vanilla ice cream. These drawings can also be clearly associated with the classical tradition of still life painting, especially due to Damianakes’ tendency to place these foods on a prominent rectangular shape that suggests a shelf or table.

Damianakes’ work is divergent from both pop art and traditional still life, however, on a fundamental level in the conceptualization of the drawing process, its intentions, and relationship to the subject. Whereas in traditional still life the subject is merely a starting place or vehicle to pursue the process of painting itself, or in pop art, creating imagery is utilized to reference popular ideas, decisions made in Damianakes’ works indicate extraordinarily different intentions. Examination of her work exposes a series of choices which seem to embody an aspiration beyond visual representation; drawing is conceptualized not as a means of image-making, but instead for bringing an object into existence.

This can be observed in a consistent deconstructing and rendering visible all aspects of her subject. Bowls of soup are always drawn in cross section and Hamburger Sandwich, for example, is highly distorted to reveal its contents enveloped by the bottom bun. An important, somewhat unique example is Turkey and Cheese and Tomato and Lettuce Sandwich (pictured above) in which she mimics the physical process of building an actual sandwich - drawing one component on top of another from an aerial perspective, ultimately obscuring each previous layer. Here, visual representation is a plainly subordinate priority to a greater power imagined in the process of drawing traditionally reserved for religious or spiritual icons and totems. The central proposition of her work is the application of this meta-magical approach to common, yet essential aspects of our world.

Kerry Damianakes (born 1949, Alameda, California) has maintained a studio practice at Creative Growth in Oakland since 1983. Her work has been exhibited recently in Visual Oasis at the Capital City Arts Initiative and previously at the California Culinary Academy, Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco, Palitz Gallery in New York, the Oakland International Airport, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art in Korea, and widely at Creative Growth. Damianakes is also a recent recipient of a Wynn Newhouse Award (2014).

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A robust visual language slowly unfurls across Albarran’s supersaturated drawings, her personal preoccupations translated here through densely applied colored pencil marks. Endearing yet grotesque tableaux are populated by impossible pregnancies, deconstructed cheeseburgers, disarticulated jaws, splayed toes and fingers, disembodied eyeballs, knobby phalluses, and prolapsed organs.

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Holiday Giving

Evelyn Reyes, Carrots (Green), 2006, oil pastel on paper, image courtesy Creativity Explored

If you participate in donating to important causes this holiday season, we extend our annual reminder to keep your local progressive art studio in mind. Studios facilitating the creative practices of fantastic artists that we discuss depend on the support of their local communities in the form of both patronage and charitable giving. These invaluable programs depend largely on Medicaid funding and now more than ever rely directly on you as continued government support is increasingly uncertain.

Of course these studios are also places to find incredible holiday gifts. Visiting and collecting works of art that you love to live with is a powerful way to integrate disability (disparate thinking) into your life in a personal and authentic way. If there’s a progressive art studio in your community, you'll almost certainly find some of the most original and remarkably affordable local art is being created there. Alternatively, you can now purchase many artists’ work online, such as Sarah Malpass at NIAD, Evelyn Reyes at Creativity Explored, or Larry Pearsall of DAC on Amazon. Please refer to our side-bar directory for all studio locations and websites.

If you’re interested in supporting larger organizations that advocate for disability rights on a national scale, this year we offer the following two recommendations:

ADAPT

ADAPT has always been at the forefront of the fight for disability rights even before the ADA. These heroes have been putting their lives and liberty on the line all year to defend Medicaid, crowding the halls of Congress, crashing meetings, and staging sit-ins at the offices of our political leaders - getting arrested and accruing legal fees in the process. ADAPT is still a relatively small organization, but these individuals saved America this year and they need your support.

ADAPT protester Lonnie Smith arrested at a sit-in at Denver US Senator Cory Gardner's office opposing GOP health care bill cuts to Medicaid (Jon Leyba/The Denver Post via AP)

The ACLU

The ACLU, co-founded by Helen Keller, has always understood disability rights in their most progressive form to be essential civil rights. They have been providing the legal muscle behind this movement at crucial moments - some you may have heard of and others you may not.  When the state of Oklahoma sent letters to Medicaid recipients in early November indicating their home care services would be terminated at the end of the month, an ACLU lawsuit sent the state legislature back to work.

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