The Irvine Fine Arts Center has been on a roll lately, showing some of the most interesting and alternative work in OC. It scored a coup earlier this year with curator Matt May's futuristic environmental show "Earth-Like Planet," and now, the center has brought together some of the wittiest pop-culture strikes I've seen in ages. The show's title, "Making Mischief: Humor In Art," is pretty much a softball slogan that might make one think that finger paintings will be on display—but don't let it fool you. What you find when you venture into this gallery, located in a mainstream park in mainstream Irvine, is nothing mainstream at all.
Ellen Rose's "Dogma" series, which consists of four colorful paintings of dogs, might seem the closest to childlike whimsy if they weren't so technically skilled and utterly fascinating—and I am not a dog person. Rose's hounds are more akin to post-Impressionist masters than kindergarteners, with layers of vivid color and texture and expressions that reveal emotion and personality. Shep is a blue dog with a green arm sitting in a room of crayon graffiti, a big hunk of a loyal thing, waiting, it seems, for a screeching toddler to come climb him yet again. Poochy is also a plaything and protector, a black-and-white droopy-faced mutt accentuated by collage with a pink torn-paper tongue wagging and an armless gloved hand floating in mid-air as it holds his leash. In a comical crack, Dogs of Summer presents man's best friend engaging in one of man's favorite sports, with an angsty canine in New York Yankees duds preparing to throw out the first pitch.
Assemblage artist Lauretta Lowell also twists up the animal kingdom in her creepy-cool mixed-media canvas A Bird Needs Glasses Like a Fish Needs Wings, featuring a frightening vulture-beaked, fish-headed woman with wings who clearly rebukes the "funny eyes" specs she's clutching, thus confounding the bird in a fishbowl at her side. And annoyed humans are in focus in Kilroy, a poor propeller-headed sod given the body of a retro timer that ticks down minutes in ironic subheads that read, "Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow" and, "A can of worms won't open itself," among others. Moving even further into the grotesque, sculpture artist Denise Bledsoe's series of beyond-disturbing hobbit-y corporate types, trolls in jumpers and babyfaced roaches throwing a birthday bash over a bug cake will raise the back hairs on anyone who has an innate aversion to dolls, clowns and inbred mountain children.
"Making Mischief: Humor in Art" at the Irvine Fine Arts Center, www.cityofirvine.org. Open Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Through Sept. 17.
Bill Kasper's full-sized, industrial kitsch sculptures of a flame-tanked motorcycle and camo-painted single-manned bomber might ignite the yearnings of motor enthusiasts, and the notable Anchors Away is a splendid take on our modern fuel crisis featuring an anchor-base chair, horseshoe legs and gas-pump armrests (a set of 12 might make a nice corporate write-off for your Exxon-Mobile boardroom, in fact). In a similar vein, graphic designer Jared Miller, who only has one piece in the show, makes a splash with his black-and-yellow, simian-inspired Uncle Sam/evolutionary-chain linocut, The Origin of Species; or, It was Earth All Along, showing us in classic ape style how ridiculous we are and how much we'd like to see more of his work.
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The rest of the show is fairly well-dominated by the photographs of John Purlia and etchings/vintage magazine collages of Constance Esposito, whose almost 20 submissions are a Mad Men dream world. Standouts include a giant hand holding a corseted gal in Trophy; a set of six muscleman bodies with various legumes for noggins in Veg Head 1-6; and Cheez Whiz, an exceptional explosion of consumerism featuring a Brownie-camera-headed, corseted lady posing on top of a washing machine, Velveeta by her side. Purlia also loves the iconic women of yesteryear, and we find in his dozen or so photographs of assembled sculptures a blowout of excess so detailed and extravagant it's almost a sensation overload. Nonetheless, many minutes of splendor can be derived from analyzing his Satanic revelries of plastic nun/Founding Father/pinup-girl figurines mash-ups with typewriters, children's building blocks that spell out relevant phrases, vintage lady-mag images and Beatles bobbleheads—and will make titles such as "Dixie's Diabolical Decision" and "Unbeknownst to Her Creator, Eve Longed to Become a Cheerleader" even funnier.
In fact, every piece in this show is humorous on several levels, and not a single one should go unseen. They might make you chuckle, they might make you shudder, but they'll certainly make you think, and that's what art is supposed to do.
This review appeared in print as "A Cacophony of Clever: 'Making Mischief: Humor In Art' does much more than tickle your funny bone."