Hive-minded, complacent subjects, some standing shoulder to shoulder, are situated throughout familiar communal settings. Like the subjects in the works, the paintings themselves hang abnormally close together in the gallery. And where these previously unsettling depictions of close quarters would be considered a common inconvenience, they are now by law considered a violation of social distancing.
A second look at the paintings reveals Colwell’s strategic commentary. At the edge of the overpopulated and over-polluted Pacific in “Litter Beach,” a sign pragmatically reads, “No Swimming.” Once a comment on a false sense of security and little redemption for the human race, “Litter Beach” can now be contextualized as a prophetic reflection of society’s disassociation with obeying the current social standards of mask-wearing. Even the emotionally demanding painting of the unhoused titled, “Encampment” recalls a simpler time in chaos. His broad inclusion of races, ethnicities, and genders reminds the viewer that this quagmire is unsolvable unless we are all accounted for.
A piece of paper that reads, “Social Distancing Guidelines” lies underfoot of a crowd in the nightclub scene painting titled, “Saturday Night Selfie.” In “Crosswalking,” a man’s phone screen says, “New Vaccine” as a cluster of civilians claustrophobically cross the street. In both paintings, masks are rare or non-existent.
A commentary on the past, a contextualized look at the present, and perhaps a harbinger for the future, Colwell’s paintings reflect the ever-growing social discourse that surfaces whenever a new social standard appears.
Guy Colwell was born in Oakland, California in 1945 and studied briefly at California College of Arts and Crafts where after two years decided to pursue a position at Mattel as a sculptor. Soon thereafter, Colwell was sentenced to two years in Federal prison on McNeil Island after refusing the Vietnam War draft. After his release, Colwell returned to CCAC as a maintenance worker and continued to paint outside of the realm of the institution. From 1972 – 1978 Colwell’s poignant comic, Inner City Romance depicting racial, and sociopolitical injustices debuted and developed a cult following. He lived for a while in the Good Times Commune and worked on the underground newspaper they produced. Starting in 1980, he also worked for Rip off Press but left to join the Great Peace March for Global Disarmament in 1986 where he made route maps for the march and sketched the daily life of the peaceful protestors. He returned to Rip Off press at their new facility in Auburn and explored the Sierra mountains for subject matter until 1992. Colwell never stopped painting and has exhibited his socio-political and controversial paintings extensively in the Bay Area. Colwell’s work has been collected by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and Pritikin Museum in San Francisco.
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