This is your bird on acid
This is your bird on acid

Groovy Art From Kebe Fox, Leah Parrent, Jim Caron at the OC Center for Contemporary Art

It's 1969, Okay
Groovy art, not great, at the OCCCA

Is the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art trying to make us all think it's 1969? They're showcasing three artists who have a major Nixon-era vibe going on—so much so that it's almost like you've stepped through a time portal into a vintage Haight-Ashbury "happening" or something. But as strong as this retro feel is, it's difficult to tell if it's intentional or not. I have the feeling these artists are somehow convinced they're doing work that's boldly contemporary, with something important to say about the America of 2008. Which is wrong, but sort of cute, really.

Kebe Fox's show "Bird's Eye" kind of looks like how Carlos Santana's music sounds, all fuzzy and acid-y and formless. Everything is oversaturated and jangly, like you were up partying at Woodstock for a few days, and then somebody slipped you the brown acid. Or maybe it's more like that trippy stuff at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Dave Bowman goes on a cosmic journey to the center of a lava lamp. Now that I think of it, it's actually more like high-school-textbook illustrations from 1974, when the hippies had taken over America's classrooms and everything from the short stories of Ernest Hemingway to trigonometry exercises were given a psychedelic makeover. Bird's Eye, the titular canvas in this show, would have fit well in the frayed, old textbook I had in 1987. I can totally picture it right there, next to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In fact . . . I'm starting to wonder if I did see it there.

In Leah Parrent's sculpture show "Organomercurial," she creates work that's technically very impressive and actually kind of daring and interesting, but the whole thing is saturated with this unsubtle, old-timey feminist symbolism. Everything is rather . . . labial. Even when you're not seeing vaginas, you feel like you're seeing vaginas. Now, I don't mean to suggest there's anything wrong with feminists or vaginas . . . far from it. But when you're actually using the word "herstory" without a trace of irony, maybe it's time to pull your head out of the tie-dye era and into a new millennium. (Honestly, Leah, Saturday Night Live was goofing on that word back in the days when Chevy Chase was still funny.) As with Fox, Parrent's work is tasty while being a bit undercooked. They both feel like they're right on the cusp of something really interesting, but they ain't there. Yet.

Unfortunately, Jim Caron (his show is rather imaginatively titled "Now") doesn't seem to have figured out what he's best at yet, so here's where we set him straight. He makes some kind of lousy oil paintings that look way too much like the teenage surrealism you'd expect to see in an Intro to Oils class at a community college. He does forgettable stuff with PhotoShop, futzing with photos to no discernible end. But ahhh . . . when he draws little monsters with ink, his pen just sings. And when he commits these little monsters to canvas in a series of acrlyic paintings using bright, toy-like colors, the whole thing takes on a wonderful, Yellow Submarine-ish quality, with various unlikely lifeforms mixing it up in a delightfully peculiar way. Caron is best-known as the cartoonist for the Coagula Art Journal, and when he relaxes and actually lets his fine art look like cartoons, all is right with the world. But when he tries to make his art look like real "art," his art, which is already real enough, stops being real art.

Let's be blunt: These exhibits are not great art; they won't touch your soul, or change the way you see the world, or do any of those other things that great art is supposed to do. But are they groovy? Yeah, man! Are they "real gone"? Yeah, like, real gone. Will they sock it to ya, baby? You bet your sweet bippy they will! (Sorry—you can ask your grandma to translate all of that stuff back into English for you.)

Kebe Fox's "Bird's Eye," Leah Parrent's "Organomercurial" and Jim Caron's "Now" at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 117 Sycamore St., Santa Ana, (714) 667-1517; Open Thurs.-Sun., noon-5 p.m.; call for Fri.-Sat. evening availability. Through March 29. Free.


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