Photo by OCW StaffLonely, soul-wrenched arteest types are always moving into Santa Ana's Artists Village and Long Beach's East Village. There at last they find likeminded folk who won't sneer at their piercings or their nonconformist hair; their hurts can be soothed away. Tenderly. It will be a great, big, happy pajama party, all the time! And sometimes there might even be a commune!
The euphoria usually lasts about six months. Then they realize their fellow artists are antisocial loners (who probably do too many drugs), and there is no great, big, happy pajama party, and they rail against the gallery politics and the stinking landlord trying to jack up the rents for the Yuppies who never come and the fact that there's never anybody around because they're all off by themselves, making art, antisocially and alone. Plus, if you actually do live in a commune, I guarantee there's a guy refusing to kick in for toilet paper.
But Long Beach has one small leg up on Santa Ana. It has the Public Corporation for the Arts (PCA), which offers up gallery space (for free), invites young artists to get their hands dirty, and spreads grants like a strain of merciful herpes. Yes, Santa Ana has arts boosters, too, but they're all off at the planning commission. Do you know where to find the planning commission? Me neither. The PCA's right in the mix of it all, and if the artists who are supposed to be showing their gallery at 10 a.m. mysteriously refuse to appear (10 a.m.? Really, what was I thinking?), someone from the PCA right next door will be happy to open up. No problem. They've got a key.
"Illumination Focus Marker Tinderbox Whimsy" is a clunky moniker for an often-clunky show at the Broadlind Hotel Project Space (the LBC, like Santa Ana, has lots of big, empty, formerly beautiful buildings in which to carve a place). But clunky doesn't matter: the aim of the show isn't the art itself; it's the making of it in a pajama-party atmosphere. There's a drum kit in one corner. There's a mini-fridge with beer inside and a donation jar atop it. There's a split-pea velour couch and lots of chairs for the artists' friends. Naturally, there are neither artists nor friends at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, but you can often find between two and 15 people hanging out. They are making art.
Are they making good art? Not usually. Good art generally requires long hours of anal-retention. Sure, sometimes you can slap together a good installation as a performance on a midnight while a band plays—Kelly O's massive, beaten-copper thing comes to mind. But usually friends and beer and a drum kit are a distraction.
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And that's okay. Looking at a split-pea velour couch is a lot more fun than looking at most contemporary art, anyway—particularly if you don't go on a Wednesday morning and that couch is full of cute li'l art boys and girls.
The PCA, which runs the space, says it offers its monthly shows to "cutting-edge," "up-and-coming" artists who "don't have many opportunities" to show elsewhere. "Up-and-coming" generally means "young artists," and the work shows it. It's not terribly cutting-edge, but it's vibrant and colorful. Rob Padilla sticks with the tried-and-true Cubist eyeballs and hearts in vivid Latin Expressionist primary colors. Those are easy to pump out when your friends are around; they don't require silence or anal-retention, but are more like graffiti—big, bold emblems crawling over one another. Jill Hagata creates towering light sculptures that look like lampshades dangling from the ceiling and stacked precariously atop one another like the 500 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins or a really successful game of Jenga. These are a grab bag of blue netting and orange brocade and black inorganic fuzz, with sex poems written on them in a girlish script. "Soft lips deep dreamy eyes brown and stoned juicy and warm." They go on, stream-of-consciousness; one entire lampshade is given over to musings on her beloved's golden brown arms that are so golden and so brown she must repeat herself quite a lot. I know just how she feels.
The space is alive with sculpture and paintings, often tribal and jungly like so many of the artisan's works in Long Beach's better gift shops, sometimes fluid and round. The best works don't seem to belong here at all. Those belong to Marc Franco. He plays with a rigid geometricism (even his small people climbing into their cars—just another part of his towering landscapes—look like teeny, stiff wood blocks), a pale and severe palette, and a Realism the others probably wouldn't know how to attempt (though the others' line and color are certainly pleasing). He paints the beaches, from Honolulu to San Diego. There are lifeguard towers and tracks in the sand. And they all look as dirty as Long Beach. Honolulu boasts no pink sunset. San Diego is as washed-out as the sky over Carson. But while they're less attractive than they are in reality, ugly Long Beach gets aesthetically pumped up, and they all meet in a middle ground—from each according to his ability to each according to his need. Long Beach focuses on Bluff Park, without revealing the disgusting ocean below. Its oil-pumping islands are small and innocuous, its black-dust-belching port a mere design element in the distance. They're works that require attention to detail; a flub can't be painted over with a big red heart. There's his stool and his easel and an almost finished piece. How he does it while the drums are pounding is anybody's guess.
"ILLUMINATION FOCUS MARKER TINDERBOX WHIMSY" AT BROADLIND HOTEL PROJECT SPACE, 448 BROADWAY, LONG BEACH, (562) 570-8753. HOURS ARE FLUID. THROUGH DEC. 14, WITH A CLOSING RECEPTION DEC. 14, 6-9 P.M.