Their Refinement of the Decline was inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Tower of Babel paintings from the 16th century, and like those iconic Renaissance works, Kerbow's piece demands to be studied closely for its labyrinthine details, like the tens of thousands of tiny windows that front the downtown buildings, and the tens of thousands of metal fittings that compose the structure's smokestacks, support beams, and accordion grids.

The "Portents" series resonates with dark humor. For one thing, we never see people in Kerbow's futuristic scenes — only an endless supply of mechanical transportation or concrete construction or some other vastness that contrasts with a picturesque horizon. Then there are the titles. Their Refinement of the Decline is a phrase that Catch-22 novelist Joseph Heller would have bestowed on the kind of Sisyphean project that Kerbow portrays. Kerbow, 48, received an MFA from New York's Pratt Institute in 1989, and has painted ever since, but it's only been the past few years that he's pursued art full time. Besides exhibiting in traditional Bay Area galleries, he had his work selected in 2011 for "Hello Tomorrow: Bay Area Artists Envision the Future," a juried exhibit of 22 artists at Berkeley's Brower Center, a hub for environmentalism and nonprofit work.

The cars that inhabit many of Kerbow's paintings, he says, represent a society reliant on fossil fuels. "The way I portray them amassed into piles, the cars begin to resemble the swarming of insects, as with an infestation or a collective hive mind." Kerbow says he tries to keep his paintings from being didactic or preachy, but if people ask him, he speaks his mind. "What we do today is affecting the type of world we're going to live in," he says. "Our present course of action is not sustainable on a finite planet."
michaelkerbow.com


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Grown Up: Part I by Charles Papillo

Painting the Better You:
Charles Papillo
Here's what happens if you know Charles Papillo: He'll ask you to recall your childhood, then to recall your career aspiration. Crime fighter? Ballerina? Astronaut? President? Whatever it was, Papillo will make a portrait of the idealized you — an intricate synthesis of photography, collage, and drawing that compresses your former dreams into your current physical state. The portraits are called "When I Grow Up."

"I try to connect all these things, and I'm actually creating a costume for people," says Papillo, 26, who graduated with a fine arts degree from Parsons The New School For Design. "A lot of these portraits are layered, and there are different stories within the portrait."

His portraits are part of a bigger body of work that includes mixed-media art on paper (mandalas are a big theme), and a new project involving anonymous grocery lists he's found at Rainbow Grocery and other San Francisco markets. Papillo, who lives in San Francisco, says his approach is about taking objects and people out of a particular context and placing them into a new and sometimes contradictory environment. Unlike more traditional portraits, Papillo's depict people who may not recognize themselves in his art, an openness to interpretations of ideals. "I want people to investigate my art and decide for themselves," he says.
charlespapillo.com


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From top: Karla Quintero, Carly Johnson and Emily Baumann. Photograph by Joseph Schell

The Movement of Mannequins:
Karla Quintero
The lights come on, and three dancers are standing still. No arm movements. No leg movements. Nothing. Are they really dancers or are they mannequins? As it turns out, they're dancers portraying mannequin figures. So when they do move, it's with truncated steps and leg shimmies and other quick bursts of energy that wax and wane. Titled Uncanny Valley (1.0), the dance piece by Karla Quintero premiered in December to sold-out audiences at The Garage, the South-of-Market space where Quintero had a three-month residency.

Just 14 months after graduating from the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance, Quintero established her own dance company in Oakland. There she is both choreographer and dancer — a double duty that puts even more demands on her early career. She's navigating those demands by exploring what she calls her "curiosity of the unexpected and the unknown" and her search for "new ways to communicate using the basic tools of the human body."

Her take on mannequins emerged when she began seeing them everywhere, in museums and fashion exhibits. "I became fascinated by how these different objects evoke the mood they evoke, but also their different features, like their faces and the way their hands are positioned," she says. "[Our dance company] tried to delve into how we thought these creatures would interact. They're not quite human, but they cross over the line."

At the end of Uncanny Valley (1.0), Quintero and her fellow dancers return to immobility as the music drones to a conclusion. The mood is charged, even as the dancing has come to a halt. "Suspense is really important to me," she says. "Aesthetics are also important. I don't necessarily know what I'm going to do in terms of movement, but I always have a sense of mood, and texture, and the color of a piece. With time, I hope I have more resources to concentrate on other elements that make those visions come to life."
karlajohannaquintero.tumblr.com


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