On ‘Visual Conversations,’ ‘two*cubed’ and ‘Made in California’

Catherine Kaleel’s Chili

Portraits are de rigueur at Q Art Salon, especially nude ones, and I have to say I’m more than a little bored seeing yet another human being stripped of their clothes. In “Visual Conversations,” an exhibition of Laguna College of Art + Design’s 2019 MFA grads, there’s plenty of skin and plenty of portraits, but of the 10 artists involved, there are three that stand out even when tackling either of those clichés. William Neukomm, Catherine Kaleel and Gavin Gardner steal the show, with Gardner the double threat as both painter and relief sculptor.

Painting on bronze, Gardner’s 2D works are magical, the sculpted children in two of them—The Little Warrior and Mia And The Stereoscope—extending from their backgrounds, shaded in life-like tones and lived-in colors. Kaleel’s silky miniature nude females posed next to foodstuffs are menaced by the serrated edges of opened cans (Tuna), the sharp blades of knives (Chili) or cats eyeing them hungrily (Toast). They don’t look like they’re aware or fearful of their potential consumption, the casual nudity providing them an unexpected strength. Neukomm masters a variety of styles and I’d be hard-pressed to dislike any of them: There’s the outlined style of old comics (Dress Up), understated surreality (Nothing Ever Happens), whimsy (The Hurricane Hour) or Wyatt-esque (Before the Storm), one looking like the voyeuristic moment just before Carrie White steps into the shower (Growing Pains), or one evoking the Day-Glo beauty of a boy watching other kids playing a game he hasn’t been invited to in Halcyon Estates (Playtime).

“Visual Conversations” at Q Art Salon, 205 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-8833; www.qartsalon.com. Open Thurs.-Sun., noon-5 p.m. Through Sun. Free.

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Next door at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) is “two•cubed,” work by two more California artists: David Michael Lee and Beverly Jacobs. Lee’s paintings work on a variety of levels: as obsessive abstracts inspired by the boatyard near his studio in Catalina; as blocks of primary color floating in a sea of teal, representations of the island he lives on; as geometric sex . . . all those rainbow shafts piercing the cubes and spurting colors (Pre-Pleasure Cubes); or from a deeper psychological perspective, the workaday trials and tribulations of life stacking up, some floating at each other, suggesting potential future collision (Cubes-Passing at Night).

The precarious safety of shelter—that it can be taken away from you in a blink—is at the heart of the tiny naive ceramic houses Jacobs makes. Some are fanciful, referencing conformity, houses of cards and the fable of “The Three Little Pigs,” the on-the-nose music playing overhead adding a tongue-in-cheek soundtrack to the viewing; while those in the main gallery are thoughtfully political, tackling segregation, poverty, class (the witty The 1%), that ubiquitous Trumpian wall, gentrification (Black, White and Red 1, with its white housing pushing black houses off the black “land” they’re on, leaving them broken and in pieces), and literally being “underwater” on your mortgage (Going, Going). Though there are delights from both artists—Jacobs’ food for thought and Lee’s dazzling 18 acrylic canvas Study for Cubes (the least polished and most alive work of the exhibition)—in the end, the sheer number of pieces and obsessive repetition in both cases are simply too much of a good thing.

“two•cubed” at OCCCA, 117 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, (714) 667-1517; www.occca.org. Open Thurs.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Through Fri. Free.

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In Brea Art Gallery’s 34th annual “Made in California,” gallery director Heather Bowling and her jury have gathered 60+ artists into a cohesive embarrassment of riches. Top pick is the humanity of Daniela Garcia’s painting Ofrenda de Fronteras, its image of two boys asleep at a detention center amid an overflow of marigold, a delicate Dia de los Muertos symbol of hope that the boys find their way home. There’s also hope in Michael Roman’s intricate charcoal over pen and ink B-Boy as Pantokrator #HipHopCanSaveMyLife, its iconography transforming the young black subject into a Christian saint. Stacie Jaye Meyer captivatingly deconstructs her 2017 charcoal and pastel on paper Fire Study (Point Dune), by isolating it into soot, a burnt stick of wood, and orange paper painted an inferno orange (Fire Study, Assemblage). Entomologists will be pinned and mounted by Mike Yokotake’s unnervingly realistic, oversized carved wooden Rhino Beetle. Stephen Anderson’s 4 Drones of the Apocalypse (Work, Conform, Obey, Die) takes those dreary lemons and makes them colorful neon lemonade. The commodification of art gets a backhand in Molly Schulman’s LACMA Quick Shop Painting (Magritte), with its computer icon clicking on a purchase button superimposed over the French artist’s The Treachery of Images. Near the front of the gallery, Made in California Solo Show winner Zara Monet Feeney’s oil on canvas Curtain After Intermission rises on her blue mood version of Ingres’ Grande Odalisque, a feminist acknowledgement that being naked and female may be the only way to get noticed in the art world. It also works as an optimistic indicator of future possibilities, a nod of the head to the other great work Bowling and Company have waiting inside for you.

“Made in California” at Brea Gallery, 1 Civic Center Circle, Ste. 1, Brea, (714) 990-7730; www.breagallery.com. Open Thurs.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Through Fri. $3.

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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