Irvine Fine Arts Center, Cura Studios and the Treasury Creative Studios Continue Bringing Art to the Masses

Fossilized Artifact #3 by Nadim Kurani at Irvine Fine Arts Center. Photo by Dave Barton

I’ve grumbled previously about how crowded the Irvine Fine Arts Center’s past annual “All Media” group shows have been. But in 2017, juror Kim Abeles turned things around by trimming the number of pieces and presenting a diverse palate of artists. (I think I followed in her footsteps when I juried in 2018, but I’ll have to leave others to pass judgment on whether the 60 pieces I chose—out of almost 1,000—worked or not.) This year’s juror, painter Constance Mallinson, has gone the opposite route, stripping the show down to what seems like a bare minimum. 

Riley Waite’s first-place winner, Ian Was Here, is an oil painting of three men in the wild. None of them look at the others, and two are in hoodies; all are absorbed in some action, the background leafless trees and magpies flying chaotically. Waite says the work is a commentary about a life split between Ireland and California; European with the odd American detail, it’s a riveting narrative full of questions. Third-place winner Steven Hampton’s oil-on-canvas Putin and Bird is painted from a photo easily found on the internet, with little alteration. While I would normally question the ubiquitous source material, its placement here feels specifically political, the bird in the Russian dictator’s hand a less-than-subtle, particularly Cheeto-like orange.  Likewise, Naeim Vahedi’s photograph Tehran Under Construction appears to be speaking to present circumstances, its diagonal and vertical glimpse of yellow girders in an otherwise-gray skyscraper resembling caution tape. Sculptor Kyong Boon Oh has carved alabaster into dexterous, sensual enmeshed ribbons in Gill (Pathway-walk in the path), while Nadim Kurani’s Fossilized Artifact #3 has the artist bisecting an oblong river rock and fitting copper pipes in between, then placing the entire piece vertically on a metal stand, as if nature itself is worthy of our artistic admiration. The gray of the stand, the peppery white gunmetal of the stone and the symmetry of the sculpture is so neatly pristine that it seems like something from the future. 

Those few stand out against the other rather humdrum pieces, with most of Mallinson’s selections failing to match the excitement of her own work (from the limited amount I’ve seen online). While her bright pop-art paintings are filled with colorful environmental statements, the canvases, sculptures, installations, photographs and ceramics here feel spare and sparse, leaving me yearning for more instead of less.

“All Media 2019” at Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine, (949) 724-6880; www.cityofirvine.org/irvine-fine-arts-center. Open Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat.; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Through Oct. 26. Free.

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Tim and Justin by Kari Dunham, now on display at the 1888 Center in Orange.

For the humble “Homecoming: Art in Orange,” the 1888 Center provides the space, while Cura Studios and the Treasury Creative Studios provide the art. Featuring work created by the artists and instructors who frequent and/or own the two studio spaces—which offer workshops and affordable work space with an eye toward artistic community—the exhibition serves more as a low-key handshake than the bold introduction needed from three organizations bucking the system, each in their own particular way. 

Amy and Eric Sargeant run the Treasury in Old Towne Orange, inside the old Mutual Citrus Association building on Almond. Amy’s Pins for the Patriarchy are ceramic brooches decorated with vintage pinups and text, but they’re less interesting than the mass-produced feminist cards they’re attached to. Her delicate ceramic fingerbowls—also embossed with snippets of text and glamour girls, but attached to birch panels—resemble the brooches, but they’re larger and the way they’re displayed tease out the strength in what would normally be considered fragile items. Eric’s watercolor-enhanced series of sketches of cats, landscapes, portraits, a beaver and cityscapes, titled ‘Spaces & Faces-Observation, documentation, and imagination,” have a jittery, tongue-in-cheek, Ralph Steadman feel to them. 

Operating in an industrial area off Batavia, Cura Studios shows a greater variety of art than the Treasury, the most unusual and inventive being Beshoy Louise’s A Dapper Soldier Portrait, an oil-painted image on papyrus in the style of upper-class ancient Fayum mummy paintings. Also eye-popping is the comic-influenced Patrick “The Happy Joy” Pascual’s loveably grotesque, painted ode to sleep paralysis, Spectrophobia, with its green ogre flapping its forked tongue at an X-eyed smoker bleeding from the gums while surrounded by martinis and nipples and ’60s wallpaper kitsch. More conventional but still powerful are Sharry Lai’s watercolor-and-pencil Uncomfortable Transparency, its pencil-sketched young woman a pale ghost disappearing into the flowers and plants behind her, and Kari Dunham’s gentle Tim and Justin, a gouache, graphic-and-ink-on-paper honorific to the art of teaching, with an artist working under the quiet, observant tutelage of his mentor.

If the show’s title promises more than it delivers, its good intent makes it work this first time around. I can’t slag anyone bringing culture to Orange County, especially when those people are putting their money where their mouths are. I’m just hoping they survive long enough to surprise us with a bigger, brighter, more expansive second show. 

“Homecoming: Art in Orange”  at the 1888 Center, 115 N. Orange St., Orange, (657) 282-0483; heritagefuture.org. Open Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Through Oct. 7. Free.

Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.

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