Charles Wish's bizarre paintings communicate through unexpected symbols, iconic images.

Saturday, July 2, 2005
By Joy Hakanson Colby / The Detroit News

Crop circles, bosomy goddesses, the Quaker Oats man and landscapes that resemble reclining nudes. Welcome to the world of California artist Charles Wish, who is featured in a one-man exhibit at CPop Gallery. 

Wish's painting vocabulary is a rich stew of signs, symbols and iconic images gleaned from Eastern religions and American regionalist art represented by such painters as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. For instance, he takes the familiar twosome in Wood's "American Gothic" and gives them each a third eye, which symbolizes enlightenment. 
He colors Tara, the protectress goddess of Tibet, green and enthrones her on a farm tractor. A white Tara is mounted high on an electrical apparatus and the fields below her are marked with Hindu symbols. 

Wish's biblical Eve regards with interest a fat green serpent with a goofy cartoon face. A couple of roosters and remains of a fence give Eve's otherwise exotic landscape the flavor of rural America. 

Surreal is the word for this mixture of images, prompting CPop's director Rick Manore to call the work "surregionalism." 
According to the artist's statement, his paintings are an attempt to show that a diverse America can hold fast to its strong regional traditions while staying open to the richness of foreign cultures. With most of the paintings, he succeeds at the challenge he has set for himself. 

But Wish's drawings are another story. While beautifully executed, they lack the energy of his paintings. They tend to be bland, sometimes even cute. 

Wish's art reflects his background. A latchkey kid born in 1971, he roamed Los Angeles streets and the rural landscapes of the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys in his formative years. An accident at age 13 crushed his skull, leaving him with a metal plate in his head. After graduating from the University of Arizona in 1993, he spent four years in a Hindu monastery. 
It was in the monastery that he says he learned to connect with remote cultures while preserving his love for America's charm. 
Although he's shown often in Los Angeles groups, the CPop show is his first solo. Two of the main paintings disappeared en route. But what's in the gallery indicates he's an artist bound for a solid career. 

You can reach Joy Hakanson Colby at: (313) 222-2276 or jcolby@