Surely, This Is Grace

Though the Gallery at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort doesn't pander nearly so loathsomely as the Kinkade Gallery in the Queen Mary, its raison d'tre is to give tourists a chance to bring home a piece of the Beach. Naturally, that will lead to much gilded crap. It's not like it can help it.

But there's a plurality of good-to-fine works, and even in the often-excruciating Fine Art highbrow world, that's not necessarily a given, no, ma'am. What's puzzling—and intriguing—is how often the really wretched pieces and the loose and lovely ones spring from the brush of the very same artist. I guess it's like putting "Harlem Shuffle" next to "Gimme Shelter," or Special Victims Unitnext to Law & Order.

Toreen West affronts first, by putting a copyright symbol next to her signature. Boy With Pailsand Waist-High are both seashore impressions of frolicking cherubs. But while they have the potential to be as offensively dear as an Eileen Hughes or a "Precious Moments" figurine, they somehow manage to escape their fate. Indeed, Boy With Pail shows a tot frolicking with a pail—at the seashore—after the style of the Impressionists. But maybe because there's a gravity to the kid, he doesn't rake your tonsils like he might. After all, cute kids aren't by definition bad objets d'art; it's the rosy glow that's given them—and the eyes lifted to heaven, the innocent droop of lip—that rankles.

L.L. McAdam's The Arena
Blue-Eyed Bodyboarder, however, also by West, is an angel dropped from above. Indeed, his eyes lift (blue, as an angel's eyes should be) back to his heavenly home as he capers—nay, gambols—in God's own sea. West follows it with Mother & Daughter by the Pier, prompting the question, When is the last time you saw a lady in a gauzy white frock holding a straw sunhat in one hand and a begowned little maid in the other? I mean outside of a laxative ad or a Merchant/Ivory film? But just when you think you've got West nailed as a hack, there's Woman in Green. She slouches in the wave's wash, holding her shoes as loosely as she might hold a drink or a smoke. She does not hold a child or a sunhat—just herself, free and easy and louche as one of Jorg Dubin's chicks, but not bent over.

L.L. McAdams has two extra-nifty pieces, The Arenaand The Invitation, and some that are less good. The Invitation is a portrait of Tanya Booth, who surfs for Roxy. Sure, she's a sun-gilded blonde, but her body is elegant, slim and supple, not va-va-voom T&A, and her face, instead of being an idealized beach goddess's, is just a regular-person's face, more or less pretty. But forget all that: this painting is about the background. Booth is foreground, half her body right in your face and the rest extending out of frame, while behind her, the waves (crashing over rocks, natch) and sky are as moody as any found canvas from the moody-sea-school of the 1870s. The juxtaposition of modern, modeled beach girl with Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is wonderful; I wish it were a found canvas, with McAdams saucily painting atop it, but I'm pretty sure the work is all his.

The Arena is terrific too. A counterpoint to Invitation, it features a lean surf god holding his broken board, as alone and strong at the front of the canvas as the gladiator he's clearly supposed to be. It's rather like Sandow Birk's surfers as classical heroes, but without the irony. Under a green sky, the surfer is older and wiser than the callow pups in the waves, but that doesn't mean his body's any less sculpted than it was. Oh, wise sea man, alone against the elements and the universe while maintaining your goateed hotness! Surely, that is grace.

And there are bronze cherubs—one holds a dog that's as big as he is! And there are puky fountains with children cavorting in them. There are terribly familiar watercolors of cherry old woodies, and beautifully sturdy blown glass. But if The Gallery must offer a piece of the Beach for guests to take back to South Bend, some of those pieces are the kind we can be proud of. Some of those pieces are the reason we live here, and the rest are no worse crimes than any of Laguna's. Snark away.

The Gallery, Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, 21500 Pacific Coast Hwy., (714) 845-4835. Open Wed.-Thurs. & Sun., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.


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