Scott Valenzuela Goes Town and Country
Tucked away in a modest unit of Huntington Beach's Old World Village, a spot best known for its Oktoberfest stein-chugging and Dachshund derbies, sits the prestigiously named OMC Gallery for Contemporary Art. It's a pretty fancy name, and the odd combination of fancy and the location might initially make viewers think they've been had. But the OMC Gallery is no kitsch shop. Owner-curator Rolf Goellnitz has a discerning eye, which is acutely apparent in his latest show featuring a fresh, young talent he plucked from obscurity. "Scott Valenzuela: Dreams of a Dream," is the debut exhibition for Valenzuela, a 25-year-old, self-taught artist who used to be a philosophy student. It's that kind of bio that adds another level of awe to an already impressive body of work.
Featuring almost two dozen oil pastels, "Dreams" is rife with scenarios of loneliness, joy and meditation, which the artist pulls from both his daily life and his nighttime imaginings. Already, Valenzuela has created a dynamic style, a sort of 1930s Art Deco abstract, sometimes with a distinctly European feel and other times imbued with colors and images that evoke a South American or Southern Californian identity. Amidst them all are figures that clearly belong to the same family of widely arched brows, elongated necks and slick French haircuts.
Sunny on the Ocean is perhaps the most whimsical piece. It finds a slender young man standing in an upturned umbrella afloat on a pointy-waved ocean at night. Above him glows a sleeping full moon and a sky full of dangling light bulbs that join together to create a picture of tranquility in the face of an unknown journey. It's a uniquely atypical reaction to dark horizons that speaks of a focused youth instead of one overcome by restlessness and ambition.
Moving into the bright lights of the big city, Kingdom of the Ants presents a handsome cosmopolitan on a balcony taking in the bustling street scene and architecture below. Instead of cars honking and careening through the avenues, however, lines of black ants jockey for position. Near the boy's head, two bluebirds flit by, and his left hand—removed from his wrist—stands perched on the balcony railing. The meaning of this dissection and the ants is elusive, and yet, unlike some symbolic abstractions, does not ignite feelings of manipulation; to the contrary, the images ring true in some mysterious way, and the enigma is both to enjoy and to build upon in the imagination. Set in perhaps the same boomtown, Sunny and Sunflower—Dancing the City, is a moment of unabashed joie de vivre. Here we find a mime-ish accordion player and a delicate young woman working the town. He springs up, unraveling his accordion like a rainbow above her head as she watches patiently, her saw and bow in hand, clearly waiting for her solo in the enthusiastic act. Behind them, Lautrec-ian buildings of the surrounding metropolis are presented in mustards, olive greens and brick reds, bending and falling all over themselves in the revelry.
These are the European scenarios, but Valenzuela also takes us to vast natural landscapes awash in light and solitude that come from another part of the world, or at least another part of his dreamlands. In both Atlas With Pear and Atlas With Chair, shirtless men in earthy browns, beiges and grays inhabit adobe-style dwellings. The figure in Pear is a particularly Picasso-esque rendering of the Atlas pose, but instead of clutching the Earth between his upstretched hands, a small dirty pear sits on the ground by his knee; in Chair, the god-man seems even less godlike, reduced to a worker who drags a simple wooden chair across what might be a desert industrial park. This image, in particular, evokes a Randian ideal turned inside out, and is poignantly reflective of our modern, neo-Fordian transformation into a nation of corporation-enslaved proletarians.
There are a dozen or more pieces, all of which embody the same whimsical and weighty visions, and the quality of the overall show is so superb that if Valenzuela continues on this path, he seems assured of a future as bright as his light-bulb-laden skies. Catch him while he's unknown.
This review appeared in print as "Town and Country: OMC Gallery invites you into the imaginarium of Scott Valenzuela."
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