Art Seen: Painter Ernest Silva Wants Your Attention

By Karen Kenyon  

Wooden Man Ernest Silva 2008

The deer in the painting wants help — or is he saying, “are you there?  Do you see me?”  He’s deep in aqua water, his orange-red antlers like firelight, the house in the background seems no refuge, the slim trees are bare.  He looks straight at the viewer.

I recently viewed this painting (Deer, Falls, House) and others by Ernest Silva at Double Break Gallery on 5th Avenue in San Diego. Owners Louis Schmidt and Matt Coors opened their gallery 1 1/2 years ago, and are thrilled to now feature Silva, an artist they have long admired, and who is also their former professor at UCSD (both were in the MFA program in Visual Arts at UCSD).

Twenty-two of Silva’s paintings fill the small gallery (extended until November 17) — most unframed, many works on paper, a few on canvas or wood veneer. The works, says Schmidt, are an overview of Silva’s career. The two gallery owners came to Silva’s studio and chose the paintings they felt represented various series created by Silva over the last seven years (2005-2012). “The paintings we chose represent the highlights and strengths of his work,” says Schmidt.

Living Room, Yellow Ernest Silva 2007

Silva’s paintings draw the viewer into the past, the 1940’s and 50’s, and at first evoke a sense of nostalgia and comfort.   That is, until you often notice that something is terribly wrong. For example, in his painting, Rowers, Lighthouse, Deer, two men are rowing a canoe — and at first the viewer may think rowing is a benign experience, but then it’s seen that both men have startled and fearful looks on their faces.  And the painting, Living Room, Yellow,  in which he gives us the interior of a warm yellow room, a fire in the fireplace, and a mother and small son in the center on the floor.   But why is there also a fire next to the mother and son?

And yet there are many times points of light in Silva’s paintings — lighthouses, lanterns, as perhaps signs of  hope. With all the seductive dangers you still have a sense of safety, for Silva, the storyteller/painter, has lived to tell the story. His stable of iconic images appear and reappear in paintings throughout his career – for example, a scarecrow figure “has been appearing since the 70’s,” he says. Other images include deer, men, women, wooden houses, rafts, canoes, bare trees, full moon, water, fire, and the beacons or lights.

Silva’s colors range from primaries of yellow, blue, red, to black and white, with touches of coral and violet.    The paint is applied at times in an opaque manner — at other times it appears translucent.

Writer Leah Ollman, wrote in an essay in the exhibition catalogue for his exhibit, Lighthouses: Recent Works by Ernest Silva,  “Silva’s work is grounded in what endures — love, longing, belonging and evolving.” The viewer can connect to what may be one of Silva’s personal remembrances, or his social commentary, and can then bring in his or her own memories and attitudes.

Silva has said he strives for the hand made, the emotive.  “The images draw you in.   You playfully consider them, and then something far from innocent takes hold of you.”

Silva began exhibiting at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in 1972, and at Artists Space in New York in 1975.   In 1979 he began teaching at UCSD as a professor in the Visual Arts Department.   He has exhibited all over the United States, in Europe, and in Mexico.   His public art projects include the The Rain House, a long-term project at the New Children’s Museum of San Diego.

Blue Night, Blue Fire Ernest Silva 2006

Silva considers his work visual poetry.   “Like poetry,” he says, “it involves intimacy.” So, visit this exhibit, let Silva’s paintings lure you into appreciation, and to his view of danger, hope, reflection, and human evolution. “What is beautiful and disturbing about the images is that they lead to multiple interpretations,” says Silva.

Ernest Silva wants to beckon us into seeing.


Exhibit runs through November 17, 2012 with closing reception slated for November 9

The exhibit will close on November 16th with a reception that evening.
Double Break Gallery, 1821 5th Ave. San Diego 92101


Karen Kenyon has been published in The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, British Heritage, Westways, and The Christian Science Monitor. She also has two books Sunshower (Putnam, NY)  and The Bronte Family (Lerner Publications, Minnesota) She teaches at MiraCosta College and UCSD-X.