'Pop' goes Studio Soto

"I feel like a waiter at a bustling restaurant tonight," said Reuben Moore, the curator of the "Personal Pop" art exhibit up at Studio Soto in the Fort Point Channel area. With an hour more to go and the requisite cheese-and-crackers already scarfed up and wine running low, the opening party last Friday drew a steady flow of art aficionados who kept the room comfortably full.

The 23 works by five artists filled the small studio with "stuff that's influenced by elements of pop culture in some way, interpreted through the sieve of what each person's goals are," Moore said.

Moore himself put superheroes and dragons into a series of 10 7 1/2-by-11-inch blocks of wood, noting that "it's a little confusing as you're not sure why they go together or wonder if they're taken out of context from other paintings, but if you keep looking at them, relationships form."

Studio Soto opened 3 1/2 years ago as a forum in which artists could share ideas, according to Gustavo Soto-Rosa, director. The gallery gained nonprofit status last year.

Turn a sharp right upon entering the studio, and you'll see a painted figure flipping an obscene gesture. Further inside the studio was an obelisk-like oil painting on canvas with some beautiful opaque swirls on it. At the top, a thought bubble informed us, more or less, to hell with beauty. "It's a comment that questions its background," said the artist, Jason E. Osborne. But this was not really controversial or confrontational art. Osborne also painted another obelisk-type work, one with "Thanksss" in a bubble called "Minus a Shinner." He said the two pieces were part of series. They were influenced by his interest in the history of Renaissance paintings and related to cathedrals and non-rectangular spaces. He envisioned that ethos "in a contemporary painting. Spencer James is an indie rocker who plays guitar in the band Flats Fixed. He has six works here, including a flying saucer, a boom box and two elephants. Why pachyderms? He found himself at the San Diego Zoo admiring the elephant's textural hide, as well as respecting their smarts. He had gotten into Eastern imagery, hit the studio, burned incense, meditated and painted on what he calls "cheesy aged wood, found wood" which makes the paintings seem like "faux antiques." James says he paints spontaneously with a "naive hand" although "I'm not trying to be a fake folk artist. I have just enough knowledge to make me dangerous. What I do is draw in oil; I don't feel like I'm a painter yet."Shawn Salinger had a huge painting, "Cold Flip," that Moore said was influenced by contemporary music and its multiple layers. The mostly orange painting had flat, somewhat discordant colors creating tension in the piece. David X. Levine had five paintings featuring undulating forms, tributes to musicians who had died before their time, such as Little Eva and Stereolab's Mary Hansen. Moore said Levine would listen to one of the musician's songs repeatedly and paint in a sort of trance-like state.

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