Amy Caterina Goes Green at Santa Ana's Grand Central Art Center

Really Going Green
Amy Caterina's door into summer

You don't go looking for profundity in the lyrics of U2, but one of Bono's lines from Achtung Baby does have the bitter sting of truth to it: "Every artist is a cannibal/Every poet is a thief/All kill for inspiration and sing about their grief." Paul Gauguin split on his wife and five kids. Late in life, Edgar Degas drove his friends away with his anti-Semitic rants. Maybe nobody ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole, but they sure as heck could have. Yes, there are plenty of nice grandmas out there filling canvases with pictures of wee puppies posed in baskets full of fresh-cut flowers. But the artists who do the really interesting stuff tend to be moody divas at best, total jerks at worst.

Amy Caterina is a really interesting artist. She is also, somehow, a sweetheart. I can call her a sweetheart with some confidence, despite having never met the woman. She's become a darling in the local art community after donating a freaking kidney to a gallery-owner pal. This wasn't her kid or her dad or even her husband, just a friend. Would you do that? No, you would not. Because you are not as nice as Amy.

Her website is full of photos of her smiling friends helping to craft the pieces for her shows, and these photos illustrate two things: 1) Amy has many more friends than you do because she is nicer than you are, and 2) Amy is so nice that she would never even think of trying to hog all the credit for her shows—she wants everybody who helped to get a little shout-out.

Amy does not kill for inspiration and sing about her grief. She throws little art parties for her pals and hands out her kidneys like it's no big deal. I couldn't give this woman a bad review even if her art was total shit. Who could say a word against her?

Fortunately, her art is totally not shit. This is beautiful, transporting art—good stuff from a good person.

"This used to be real estate, now it's only fields and trees" is Caterina's debut solo show at the Grand Central Art Center. The title comes from "Nothing But Flowers," a Talking Heads song that begins with Edenic imagery—two lovers enjoying the lush countryside, only to slowly change into a post-apocalyptic tale as all of our mysteriously abandoned Pizza Huts and malls are swallowed up by vines and daisies. Caterina has brought David Brynes' vision of a verdant Armageddon to Grand Central's Project Room, using photos, video, sculpture, and yards and yards of "Fun Fur" from the craft store.

As you enter the space, it is dark like nighttime, but there are patches of cheery sun on the ground, and a totally incongruous square of bright, noonday sky is aglow overhead, like a door into summer. You wander among rolling, unmowed hills, where cute, cartoonish animals appear to have been frozen mid-frolic, as the grass crawled up their little legs and encased them before they could get away. It's creepy yet beautiful and kid-friendly—part Disneyland topiary garden, part eerie dreamscape.

The narrator of "Nothing But Flowers" feels stranded in a world without Dairy Queens ("I dream of cherry pies, candy bars and chocolate-chip cookies!"), and there is something undeniably forlorn about this installation. As much as we may fuss over our gardens, plants are not our friends. They were here long before we were, and after we're gone, they'll be happy to grow over everything we were and encase it all in layers of tangled vines, dotting the Sydney Opera House with a million little mushrooms and disfiguring the face of the Lincoln Memorial with a beard of toxic mold. We can scorch the Earth all we like, but in the end, the fields and trees will do what they want with our real estate.

In August, Caterina will be hosting a free workshop, and visitors will knit projects to donate to a local dialysis center. (Jesus, this woman fits way too much niceness into a day. When does she sleep?) Go enjoy her show, help her knit stuff for a good cause. There's plenty yet to see and do before the inevitable day when the grass grows up out of the ground and encases you mid-frolic.

Amy Caterina's "This used to be real estate, now it's only fields and trees" at the Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; www.grandcentralartcenter.com. Call for hours. Through Aug. 24.

 
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