- ARTWORK BY LIAM DALEY
Hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast, the inaugural “Q Youth Art Show,” a joint exhibit of work by artists Dane Smith and Liam Daley, is a surprisingly sophisticated affair. They may be young, but these two have something to say.
Both Daley and Smith are Cuesta College art students in their late teens, and both have the kind of clearly discernible style that generally attends the efforts of far more seasoned artists. The only clues to their age lie in the relatively inexpensive materials used (mostly ink or graphite on paper) and perhaps as well in the generally youthful vibe exuded by the show, from the naked angst of Smith’s Scissors to the street-art-informed hipness of Daley’s Magpie Chatter.
Both artists are members of GALA’s Q Youth Group, a weekly gathering of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth between the ages of 13 and 20. Curated by Paul LaRiviere, the annual “Q Youth” exhibit is intended to reflect the experiences of the local LGBTQ community at large, and of its young people in particular.
To its great credit, however, the themes in the “Q Youth” show extend far beyond the artists’ sexual orientation. If this exhibit is “about” one thing in particular, it’s about the challenges faced by a sensitive, creative, and inquisitive mind under the age of 20.
The show is divided into two parts. In the foyer of GALA’s Palm Street headquarters, Daley’s simple ink drawings entice and entertain the viewer, generally using only black ink on white paper, with touches of red here and there. The aforementioned Magpie Chatter is the biggest work present, and seems to set the tone for the other pieces in the room. In content and subject matter, and even in its title, Magpie Chatter feels like an updated take on Paul Klee’s The Twittering Machine, with references to Woodstock from Peanuts. The piece depicts a series of stenciled figures with stylized bird-heads turned upward, a dialog bubble above them containing a jumble of black hash marks.
- ARTWORK BY DANE SMITH
- PORTRAIT OF KATE:
Magpie Chatter represents Daley’s feelings about much of the language that surrounds art, he explained in a phone interview, as well as the harsh and unnecessary words people are wont to hurl at one another. The Peanuts reference was deliberate, he says, though my mention of The Twittering Machine seems to come as a surprise (there’s a brief moment of confusion before it is established that I’m not talking about that Twitter).
Clowns feature prominently, often tragicomically, in Daley’s work. So do balloons, which are often depicted drifting away from an open hand—an image of loss, or of letting go. The clowns are often pictured with their eyes shut, as if too world-weary to go on.
“A lot of people tend to be afraid of clowns,” Daley said, “but, for me, they have a lot of character when you portray them as melancholic or reserved.”
I’d always assumed that what made clowns so amusing—or frightening, depending on who you are—was their ability to twist, simplify, and exaggerate what it is to be human, turning our shared condition into some kind of grotesque theater. Daley’s simple drawings, fittingly, have a little of this clownish quality. Here, the devil can be spotted leering cartoonishly from within the ranks of an otherwise innocent-looking choir; there, a procession of cap-and-gown-wearing figures lines up to jump ceremoniously off a cliff in a piece titled The Graduation.
- ARTWORK BY LIAM DALEY
- THE GRADUATION:
A kind of dark whimsy hovers over Junk Man, a painting of a figure surrounded by, well, junk, which clings to him as he trudges through an urban landscape made of, well, more junk. Interestingly, however, no individual items can be defined in this busily drawn mass. It’s just garbage; pollution; the literal weight of the world.
“I sometimes cringe when people say there’s a complexity to the work,” Daley said. He describes the squiggles of Junk Man as “a parody of complexity.”
With the exception of Junk Man, most of his drawings in the show take up a mere fraction of the paper, and are left floating in an expanse of gratuitous white space.
Daley’s approach to art-making can be scatological.
“For me, art is like taking a dump, really,” he said, getting my attention. “You have something that is troublesome, that you need to get out, and by taking something that you have inside of you and getting it out, by giving it physical form, you then”—yes, he takes it there—“relieve yourself of it.”
- ARTWORK BY DANE SMITH
Daley, 19, grew up in Atascadero, and attended high school with the other artist in the “Q Youth” show, Dane Smith.
Smith’s work, which hangs in GALA’s Hatler Memorial Library, stands in stark contrast to Daley’s. Where the latter is playful, ironic, and slightly cartoonish, the former is often earnest, academic, and realistically rendered. Yet where Daley’s lines are tight, spare, and carefully considered, Smith’s appear effortless. A figure artist, Smith created most of the pieces in the show in life drawing classes. His Portrait of Kate, a graphite drawing on paper, captures a young woman’s expression of vulnerability: Eyebrows slightly furrowed, hair pushed out of her face, she crosses her arms protectively over her chest.
There’s a certain unfinished quality to many of Smith’s drawings, and thus a certain sense of possibility lingers in them. There’s none of the finality of paint or the fussiness of too much shading, just ideas hovering softly, loosely, over white paper.
Smith, 18, tends to work very rapidly—he says he doesn’t tend to like the look of drawings if he spends too long on them—and estimates that he spends three to six hours per day drawing. The equation of speed, discipline, and natural talent seems to have produced work that is of a high level technically while never appearing labored. When, on top of all of this, Smith has something important to say, as he does in the simple yet jarring Scissors—in which a hastily drawn figure is impaled by a larger-than-life pair of shears—the impact is massive.
“I was actually having a really bad time that day,” Smith explained in our phone interview (you don’t say?).
Scissors was the result of an attempt to “draw it out,” as Smith tellingly puts it. He hesitated to include the piece in the show, fearing that it would come off as overly dramatic. The positive feedback he received from viewers, however, convinced Smith he’d made the right choice.
“I think it’s fairly obvious that the pieces in this show are very academic,” he said. “This was one of the few pieces that was also psychologically loaded.”
If the goal of the “Q Youth” exhibit is to highlight the experience of the LGBTQ community, it has done so—although there’s nothing particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning about this exhibit. Instead, Daley and Smith seem more interested in touching on the issues that all young people face, regardless of their sexual orientation.
It’s likely, though, that Atascadero won’t hold these two artists much longer. Both spoke of transferring to art schools in cloudy, fashionable cities (Good luck, guys! Have fun always carrying a light sweater!). If they must go, however, at least they’ve set the bar high.
Arts Editor Anna Weltner is a woman of letters. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.