Nice Rack

photo by Jack GouldThe New York-based Society of Illustrators is an exclusive club, the kind to which even Groucho Marx would have wanted to belong. Their luncheons are divine, and the surroundings are hushed.

And, like any good club, there's a steady sense of privilege —if not privilege attained, then certainly privilege sought; it shines through as brightly as a penny in the mitt of a Norman Rockwell scamp. You can sniff the money for yourself at Cal State Fullerton's Santa Ana satellite, the Grand Central Art Gallery, as it hosts the society's traveling exhibition.

From Stacy Innerst's almost Cubist Modiglianis in Service With a Scowl (a disgruntled bellhop stands on a well-to-do customer's head) to John Rush's copperplated, bare-breasted etching The Courtesan (nice rack!), the tone is almost exclusively well-heeled New York Media —for which most of these works were commissioned. Innerst and others mine the mother lode of New Yorker-style comic covers, while Rush and Co. remember a gilded time, along with the well-mannered New York Observer, when the Rococo set threw ha'pennies to little match girls from their barouches. Or, more likely, didn't.

A rare departure from the tyranny of the New York media elite (to crib from the noxious Right) is a cluster of fantasy-style illustrations portrayed lovingly and precisely. Kinuko Y. Craft's Song for the Basilisk plops a golden-tressed maiden in the middle of an Edenic arbor complete with peacocks, griffins and teensy wildflowers, all under a magical moon next to a gentle sea. If any of you are writing novels about elves and faeries, contact Craft for your cover art at once!

Some of these illustrations are extraordinarily crafted by fantastically talented artists. But they still belong to Madison Avenue; the stink of the factory is upon them, when their creators are supposed to either starve genteelly in their garrets or be to the manor born. Despite Andy Warhol's best ironic intentions, the jealous dealers in Soho and Chelsea will guard the gates against them—except, of course, when said dealers represent them.

Across the hall, CSUF's grad students and faculty show in the gallery store. Next to the refined (but often drowning in their own ennui) art of the society, the works are as fresh and breathy as a pocketful of posies. Cliff Cramp's Brooding Bill Bones is a dark oil of an old, grizzled salt; it feels like a thrift-store find. Cathy Pavia's children's book illustrations are watercolors of a Dalmatian wreaking havoc on a suburban living room. The mess, rendered in watercolors as precise as pencils, is sweet and overwhelming. And David Aquistapace's large bedroom scenes in saturated oranges and pale aquas feel like David Hockneys, but with better modeling.

Of course, in a college setting, one must have the last-minute cramming that pretends to be an installation. In this case, the honor goes to Freeman Lau's Lost and Found, which consists entirely of the gallery's room-length windows being covered in perfect horizontal rows of torn strips of blank typing paper, some of which—oh, the impermanence of life, ideas and whatever else you want to stick in there!—have fallen to the ground. There's a very pretty video, too, of scrolls of beautiful Chinese calligraphy burning, while eerie music whines throughout.

Distinctly scuzzier are local maverick Janice Ledgerwood's hair paintings over at the Edward Giardina Contemporary Art annex. Ledgerwood, most fondly remembered (by me) for her bitingly insouciant looks at vanity and consumerism using dolls and U.N. statistics, has a thing for icky. In this case, gold-flecked paper holds hair clippings formed into kisses and silhouettes (very like the mud-flap lady) and the shape of her own left hand. The most beautiful hair in the world, when found in a discarded hairbrush clump instead of on one's head, becomes really very grotesque. And these hairs never belonged to a Clairol model. Gross, Janice Ledgerwood!

The Society of Illustrators' 1999-2000 traveling exhibition at Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central Art Gallery, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7236. Through Dec. 18; Janice Ledgerwood at Edward Giardina Contemporary Art, 205 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 541-9774. Through Nov. 30.


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