Like the well-worn bind of a leather-bound copy of “Moby Dick,” artist Felix Macnee’s new collection is as familiar as it is innovative.
The installation, titled “Kingdom Animalia,” is part of a group show called “Flood” at the Hayes Valley Market that also features sculptures by Paul Spencer and collage works from former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Gonzalez.
For his part, Macnee delivers works that beautifully blend a nostalgic and romanticized longing for the sea with strictly modern details. They’re Herman Melville and David Foster Wallace at the same time.
Harkening back to the days of the beloved Dewey Decimal Classification System, Macnee reinvents the prized system to operate on a more whimsical and esoteric level.
“What I was trying to do is make something that’s pretty obvious and stupid in some ways,” he says. “How would Noah categorize all these different elements? ‘E’ is for the elephants, ‘G’ is for the gazelles. One of the motivations is to make it simple.”
The exhibit’s grand introduction is “Kingdom Animalia”; the collection’s largest piece admirably sets the stage for the show’s subsequent pieces. A large white whale occupies half the canvas, the numbers one through five etched into the animal’s side.
Macnee’s signature polyhedrons fill another half of the canvas; a different animal occupies each panel of the geodesic dome, presumably illustrating the contents of Macnee’s modern take on the ark.
Then, pulling in the intentions of the classification system, a work titled “Elephant” is labeled at the top with an “e” that is not the work of a stoic typewriter; rather, it is handwritten.
Macnee’s canvases, rather than abiding by conventional rules of being square or rectangular, instead mirror the dimensions of the cross-sections of a boat’s hull.
His works alternate between being long and skinny, or in different angular shapes.
Macnee’s use of canvas, however, is so natural, the shape isn’t what grabs the eye — it comes more as an interesting afterthought.
Also inspiring the installation’s nautical theme are fragments of architectural renderings culled from dated texts mapping elegant diagrams of stress dynamics of ships and boats; renderings that now live on yellowed, brittle paper.
Meanwhile, Macnee’s color scheme, a soft, mossy green, is warm and almost cozy.
“The greens give the feeling of the bottom of a swimming pool,” the artist says. “It’s artificial, but not that artificial … that particular green is one that I just really like, and it made me really nostalgic for San Francisco.”
Where: Hayes Valley Market, 580 Hayes St. (at Laguna Street) San Francisco
When: Show closes Sunday