Step to the New

With a new organizer and, where possible, fewer paintings of sailboats, Long Beachs Tour des Artistes tries to make friends

Courtesy www.ramonarosales.comThe seventh annual Tour des Artistes in Long Beach is about change. And paintings of sailboats—and about how changes in the tour, such as a new organizer, Se Reed of downtown's Open bookstore, mean not so many paintings of sailboats this year. That's a good thing; time, Reed says, is tight.

"We don't have another year to wait for [the tour] to get bigger," Reed says. "The thing is, with all the rents increasing in the East Village Arts District, it's the whole trend in downtown in general: people have kind of discovered it, and they're coming, with their corporations and their Starbucks. It's this huge tidal wave you can't fend off."

This is the age-old story: an area of town like Long Beach's East Village, centered on Broadway and Linden Avenue, goes out of fashion and becomes economically depressed. Creative types like artists move in; landlords cash in and rents rise, and artists have to move on. Which is roughly where East Village is now—minus, unlike other arts districts around the nation, ever having had enough space to show its art.

This year's tour tries specifically to rectify that by closing off Elm Avenue between Broadway and Third Street and turning it into an open-air gallery—and by extending the tour with buses to some areas of the city, such as the Fourth Street vintage shops, that haven't previously been on the tour.

Which means this year, the tour has managed to land some artists who've lived in the area for years but are part of it for the first time, like Shawn Kail, whose longtime fascination with vintage-iana bursts forth from the windows of Meow, 2210 E. Fourth St., in paintings of obsolete electronic equipment.

"It's only really been 20 to 25 years since this whole thing got started, and it's just amazing that we could go from all this stuff being invented to it being obsolete," Kail says of his series, which spotlights everything from vintage interface terminals to cassette players. "For each of these gadgets, there was a guy who busted his hump to design it—and then 20 years later, people are looking at it going, 'What is it?'"

People say that when they look at Kail's work too, which blends photography, collage and painting.

"The only thing I've found is that nobody gets it at all. Everybody thinks it's a screen [print]," he says. There's a simplicity in his work—a focus—similar to that of others on the tour, whether it's in the cast-off parts assemblages of Rick Frausto, or in the work of Orange County Museum of Art custodian Ryan Callis, a fan of street art who's just about to segue—he hopes—into fine art.

Callis, who's moving to Claremont this summer to begin studying for a master's in fine arts, fell under the spell of street art 15 or so years ago—the work of famed skater artist Barry McGee and others. That flat but descriptive style still informs his paintings, which will be on display in the Gatsby building at First Street and Atlantic Avenue—but he wants to become more.

"Now I think it's become so commodified and commercial and trite. There's nothing that inspires me in that arena," he says, "so I'm looking more toward fine art."

His visual vocabulary—Colorforms-like suns, fluffy clouds and people in silhouette—could help him transition.

"A lot of my people are silhouettes," Callis says. "It's not all about the individual—which our society is these days. I think it gives my paintings an everyman edge." So do his prices: $200-$600 for a canvas (Kail's work is slightly steeper at around $1,000). Both men, whether they're fetishizing the cassette tape or the human form, want to humanize their work.

"I want to make it so that any person can look at it and take something out of it," Callis says. "I think that's the bummer about contemporary art. I think people feel tricked by it and can't relate to it. I think a lot of people can be excited about looking at a piece of art if they can relate to it."

THE SEVENTH ANNUAL TOUR DES ARTISTES, LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT LONG BEACH, (562) 499-6736; WWW.TOURDESARTISTES.COM. SAT., NOON-10 P.M. $10.

 
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