Inside the darkened gallery space is a calming, colorful array of work by Bay Area–based Cork Marcheschi, all aglow. This exhibition, “Cabinet of Curiosities,” is a mini-retrospective for the artist, who has been working in the medium of light since 1968. Many of the works are recent or current (2009–2011); they are interspersed with pieces going back to 1969. Along the way, we see clear shifts in style and interest as Marcheschi investigated the breadth of his chosen medium.
None of the pieces flash or move — at least not without human interaction. The 1975 “Oasis” creates a sizzling electrical current when a pedal is pushed, and “Jujubees” (1970–1990) gently reacts to touch with increasing intensity of light. The overall effect is quiet and meditative; it comes as no surprise that the artist is a longtime practitioner of Zen Buddhism, which he studied under Alan Watts.
Several current works utilize colored marbles fit snugly in holes cut out of an aluminum box; the light from inside the box shines through the marbles to create a soft glow. With titles such as “Position of the Stars the Night Lenny Bruce Died” (2010) and “Constellation #1” (2009), there are clear references to starry skies, which several of these works resemble. The use of marbles evokes memories of childhood.
Light is also used to commemorate those who have passed. Two of the most recent pieces are memorials to the artist’s dog Ruby. “Blues for Max” (1992), a child’s chair that stands on lightbulbs to produce a ghostly glow, as well as the two neon squares, “Mantle Paratrooper's Last Jump” and “Goodbye Uncle Buddy 13 and 14” (both from 1980) commemorate people now deceased.
Marcheschi’s style has ranged from color-casting minimalist geometric neon work that calls to mind Dan Flavin, to complex, funky and funny pieces. The latter label fits a work of backlit steel that has been plasma cut with lively cartoony images whose shadows dance chaotically on the wall, recalling William T. Wiley and H. C. Westermann. Such references there may be, but this is an artist who, ultimately, is doing his own thing. That thing is by turns playful, sad, inspirational, and peaceful. Light can do all that.