Noel, Noel

And not a cherub in sight

Photo by James BunoanCosta Mesa DIY punks may be a fashion don't—okay, so there's no may be about it—but that same do-it-yourself ethic is responsible for almost enough good to make up for the spikes, bleached blond hair (on men) and goatees, which my grandmother always said made a man look like he was wearing a vagina.

God, I love my grandma.

In the past decade, there have been almost as many underground galleries in its industrial parks as there were pit bulls and strippers.

Almost.

And now there are two more underground galleries. Both are small—modest, even—but reaching to establish roots without waiting for a developer to zone an arts district for them. Costa Mesa isn't the kind of city where artists wait for the redevelopment agency to fancy it up. Redevelopment agencies are too much like parents.

The kind people at Arden 2 Project Gallery are sort of like parents themselves, herding their far-flung children together to show in an office space on 17th Street. They're from Poland—and like magic, all their artists are from Poland, too! It's fun to try to say their names.

Johanna Klass is the artistic director as well as a theater person. She was going on about 19th-century Polish stage actress and Anaheim resident Helena Modjeska—I think that's the "Arden" part—but I couldn't figure out what she was talking about so I just smiled. Also, she gave me tea.

The gallery's inaugural exhibit, "Beyond Exile," purports to be about an evolving environment conducive to mutual exchange related to the state of being. Like every good mission statement, that means absolutely nothing at all—and yet even with its very vague parameters, the show manages to transgress them. Instead, Klass and her cohorts are giving their artist friends a Western home.

The best of the extremely disparate (and really not very compatible) works are Tomasz Osinski's minuscule sculptures, which are very like the Lilliputiana at the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Sukienka Mii (Mia's Dress) is the largest at about an inch and a half; it is a dress made of shimmering blue-green moths' wings. It rotates under glass—and behind a magnifying glass. The rest of his works are far tinier; dust motes form a flea circus, a box holds row upon row of ant-size seashells, two naked ladies the size of nose hairs join a third, fatter one to form the Three Graces—or Trzy Gracje. Don't you just love speaking Polish? There's a Little Snowman too, but I didn't write down the translation.

Ewa Konieczna Matysek weighs in with just one painting—titled painted from a boat—that would be a lovely complement to any of our Laguna plein air shows. It depicts a choppy riverbank on a hazy day, and two trees in the background look like Dali claws. It doesn't seem to have much to do with the other works.

Nor does Snezana Petrovic's Black Madonna, a stretched-out print that's all crazy angles and lurid pinks, a canvas that would be right at home alongside the stretched and manipulated works at Grand Central. An evolving environment conducive to mutual exchange related to the state of being? Sure!

And come to think of it, neither does Zoran Belic's Saturn—an installation with a crutch, a heavy black chunk of stone and something that's either an enema or an IV drip—but it would have been just perfect as props for one of Squelch's mid-'90s Santiago Street performances. And Leonard Konopelski's rough-hewn pastels, with their blocky forms and rich surfaces, could show on the top floor of the Santora alongside works by Vladimir Cora and those other guys even today.

Arden 2 is five galleries in one! Welcome to Costa Mesa, friends.

And welcome to ArtMartyr, even if the Weekly's Chris Ziegler did get there first. The small co-op has a terrific space with graffiti-mural interiors and pretty good DIY feng shui. Its website, naturally, is preposterously fine.

ArtMartyr has been around since spring, and its fourth show—of a Redondo artist named John Gill—is a fine one. It's very young work: large tiles in pleasing bright tones are painted with simple silhouettes and vaguely rebellious mottoes. There's Animal, and Ego, and Public Enemy decorated with a simplified man-bull. The Virgin of Guadalupe lurks in the upper corner of works that borrow from R. Crumb and Llyn Foulkes. Osama, George W., Gorby and Hitler share a canvas. Some of Gill's works have the feeling of the Madeline children's books—sweetness and button noses—while most others have a vague Gen Y distrust of politics mixed with affection for the dopier bits of pop culture and unrelenting reverence for Picasso and The Absinthe Drinker.

By young I don't mean stupid, I mean young. Gill is still sorting through a thousand influences and appreciations. His lines are sure (while also naive), and his sense of color and space is even better.

ArtMartyr holds co-op meetings the first Saturday of the month. Go forth and DIY.

"Beyond Exile" at Arden 2 Project Gallery, 350 E. 17th St., Ste. 112, Costa Mesa, (949) 548-0097. Through Jan. 31. Open by appointment; John Gill at ArtMartyr, 1310 Logan Ave., Ste. H, Costa Mesa, (714) 434-0664. Through Jan. 28. Open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., by appointment.
 
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