You Ain't Inventing Jack

Fullerton College looks back at sex, sex and the Old West

The Rule Breaker by John AlexanderAs a former community-college student, I know just how much value you can get for your $11 per unit. At Santa Barbara City College–the junior college of choice for the Schoenkopfs–it was the cafeteria (run by the hotel/restaurant students and offering salmon croquettes for $2) and the geology program. Since the geology program was the best anywhere, it was untouchable even in the bloody early '90s, when then-Governor Pete Wilson was stanching the flow from K-12 and the UCs with transfusions from the CCs. We had lots of protests. It was fun!

But even after the bloodlettings, bad old "government" still manages to fund some terrific programs, even for community-college students. At Santa Ana College, they've got the Tessmann Planetarium. It's $3 per seat! And at Fullerton College, the oldest continuously operating junior college in California, they've got an artist-in-residence program that has glittered like Ziggy Stardust for 30 years. Who knew? I mean aside from all the artists, students and faculty?

Since 1972, Fullerton College has been hosting sexily preening California artists for demonstrations and lectures, and they invariably donate a painting or two to the college afterward like a shared post-coital cigarette. (I envision them as moody seductors out for a bite of college flesh, like Claire's arrogant professor on Six Feet Under.) These paintings and the odd sculpture, as well as some that have been donated by area collectors and the Roden Gallery, make up the college's permanent collection. "Visions" shows the happy result.

Of course, area collectors also had to go and donate 57 works by John Paul Jones, which just seems like overkill.

There's one nude, a dashed-off watercolor and charcoal from 1973 by Bay Area Abstract Expressionist guy Nathan Oliveira. It's almost a doodle, the line is so relaxed. And while our Figure is indeed naked, she's not inviting us in for a Pap smear like one of Oliveira's nudes did at the Orange County Museum of Art this year. The sex is there, yes, but it's not in the subject. It's in Oliveira's sated, lazy, confident strokes.

There's not another nude until 1993, when Jim Morphesis' Dark Triptych was painted. Dark Triptych is supposed to be the torso of Christ, but it's much more Henry Rollins Jesus than Iggy Pop. It's Christ with lats like a cobra's hood, Christ as a hot gay guy brunching and flexing in Laguna Beach, Christ with access to a 24-Hour Fitness. Simply, it doesn't look like Christ at all. And while the modeling is beautiful–you can see the convex roundness of a rosy nipple–its classicism makes it a painting of a statue rather than a painting of a man. There's no need to be offended by its sensuality because a statue can't have sex. Morphesis shows us the proper way to shadow a muscle, but it's labor, not freedom. It's beautiful–and constipated.

Judging by "Visions," the much-maligned '70s of indiscriminate sex, drugs, gender-bending and shrill identity politics loosened up California artists like a Quaalude and a Swedish massage, and we've been retightening our sphincters ever since. In the '70s, people were starting to be less weird about sex, and they weren't such freaky prudes as they are today. Classes on human sexuality weren't a Rush Limbaugh zinger alongside witticisms about Joycelyn Elders' masturbation homework, but rather a part of being whole and self-actualized. Even moms in the suburbs did it . . . a lot.

Then Jesse Helms riled up the whole damn country, and college officials have been covering their asses like John Ashcroft covered Justice.

Jose Luis Cuevas gives us Street in Hamburg from 1975. Apparently people in Hamburg had heads floating detached from their bodies and hats made of heart valves, and also in Hamburg apparently feral pigs wore clothes and there were contortionists on the loose!

Cool, daddy.

Peter Alexander, as he always did in the '70s, gave us silver-dusted orgasms disguised as night skies. Oh My (Explosion Series) was charred black with lightly built-up paint and pastel. Stars swirled with silver dust in a decade when "pretty" was for decoupage.

But where once Peter Alexander and Jose Luis Cuevas were Fullerton College artists-in-residence, the 1990s saw nonagenarians like Milford Zornes. His watercolors of the West were beautiful and important, and Eleanor Roosevelt hung one in the White House. Hanging here is Hogan In the Canyon, a wash of drab color that is a sweet depiction of Zornes' main subject for four decades but doesn't have the imposing height and grandeur of Zornes' other high deserts and canyon walls. At 91, a young lion he was not.

Does that matter? Not if Fullerton College invited him as an important link with the past and to remind students that everything builds on what came before and they ain't inventing jack. But if they invited him so as not to stir the pot, well, then, people win who have nothing to do with art but know what they don't like.

Today, Joe Scarborough and his ilk on the Fox News Channel scowlingly expose! shenanigans at the universities, from a "taxpayer funded" bondage club to how public-university health-center websites created with your tax dollars show kids (or rather, legal adults) how to put on condoms. Including with their mouths!

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