SnoozyIn a Good Way

Photo by Jack GouldBy midday Thursday, I was tilted so close to the edge that I could have gone Huntington Beach cop on someone—anyone—who looked at me cross-eyed. These are the times when we need gentle works of art. No shrill political rants or screechy feminist manifestos (two things of which I'm normally quite fond) and no souped-up, aesthetically challenged intellectualisms with which to feel superior to the herd of cud-chewers that makes up the American art market.

These are the times you just want soothing. And on that day, I would have welcomed even a neo-Impressionist Laguna Beach scene of children frolicking—ah, see the children frolic!—in the waves. As my colleague Alison M. Rosen wrote in her excellent article on why she genuinely likes the art of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light™ ("Aaaiiiiiiiiieeeeeeee!!!" April 6), "Kinkade isn't art; it's narcotic. Soporific. Like a glass of wine, or a warm bath, or a backrub, or an episode of Friends, Kinkade just makes you feel better. And like religion, the tacit promise of a Kinkade painting is that you can just look at the image and let it hush your worried mind, and everything will be taken care of."

I wanted some of that. But though Kinkade does it for Alison, I was going to need something else.

And as I always do, I got lucky. Now, I'm not saying "Grey Matter," Southern California Artists' (SCA) annual member show at Chapman University's Guggenheim Gallery, is akin to a Kinkade or an Eileen Hughes. I would never dream of disparaging the fine folks of the SCA like that. But is it gentle? Noncontroversial? Sweetly puttering and affrontless? Oh, yes. And if your whole body is screaming for a Midol or a crack pipe, "Grey Matter" is a lovely, mindless tonic.

The works of the members of the SCA are generally well-done and rarely actually boring. They're a bit snoozy, but in a good way: the canvas equivalent of a tea cozy, a shining anachronism when most artists are immersed in the zero-sum game of bloodier and gorier to seize our attention. This is especially interesting because very few of the SCA are ladies in their 80s.

Edythe Zwickler's Lenore, Poetry and Petals is one of the edgier works in the exhibit because her medium is lint. Edythe, you are so avant-garde! But as opposed to an excruciating piece I saw at a Huntington Beach Art Center open-call show many years ago, Zwickler's work is not merely rolls of lint tucked behind glass. Instead, she forms her blue-gray felt into pretty flowers! Plus, I like how Edythe spells her name.

Nearby, Janice DeLoof's Mother in Low Chair lowered my heart rate considerably. The background of the small work on paper shifts from orange to green like Michelangelo's shadows, and three tiny chairs (embossed so they stick out like Braille) float on it like hovercraft, two in profile and one full-frontal. Look! A bitty, little vase with flowers stands in the middle of the piece! I like vases of flowers. I like Braille: blind people should be able to use elevators, too. And I like chairs. I am an excellent sitter.

Are you beginning to get the theme? These works are likeable. They are enjoyable. They depict flowers, yet they don't suck.

Esther Shaw paints big, sexy cabbage leaves. Janis Kramer's Inner Critic is a big, fat, sumo lady, her red lips opened as wide as the snake people's hinged jaws in V. Mildred Kouzel cleverly asks, Does Gray Matter? with a drawing of a woman, her face shaded with lots of charcoal hatch marks, her blue eye shadow as anachronistic as fake breasts, bleached hair and fake eyelashes. Glued onto the woman's hair are pieces of aluminum. She is covering her gray! Get it? It's charmingly simple and yet profound, as profound as a pun can be, anyway. And if I were 58 instead of 28, I'd probably find it a whole lot more profound.

But I did not want profound that day. I wanted nice. I wanted chicken soup. And I found it in great lovely steaming bowls. Go see some nice! Go see some chicken soup.

"Grey Matter" at Chapman University's Guggenheim Gallery, 1 University Dr., Orange, (714) 997-6729. Open Thurs.-Sun., noon-4 p.m. Through July 14.


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