The Modern Organics

Untitled by Tom Broersma

eVocal is a friendly exchange, the owner Brett Walker says, falling a bit over his words because he talks so fast. As a graphic designer with his own silkscreening operation, he finds clothing designers directly—without relying on a buyer—and frees them up to design whatever T-shirts, shirts and ball caps they like. Sounds great in a Business 101 sort of way: more good people making a little more money on each piece. You'll pay anywhere from $28 for a T-shirt with three copies hanging next to it to $120 for an earth-toned, hand-sewn, graphic-strewn one-off by a designer found only here.

But what makes eVocal unique isn't just Shevaschuck's handmade jewelry or her re-sewn women's T-shirts and tops that cleverly reimagine what could be vintage Ocean Pacific. It's not even Jesse Miller's artfully faded T-shirt line, Green Sun (or his '70s-style acrylics or stained glass hangings), or the one-of-a-kind baseball caps made by an ex-Wu-Tang Clan member that confirm the store's location: in Costa Mesa across gritty 19th Street from Detroit Bar. (RVCA is a five-minute drive away and, tellingly, eVocal has plans to court the Fred Segals of the world. Its website launches next month.)

It's the fact that in the two months prior to eVocal's July opening, Walker, 32—a native of South Africa whose investors include his attorney and his mother—transformed a storefront with a view of another shopping center into something that now resembles a '70s cabin in Big Sur, or perhaps a hip little shop in Berkeley during the same period. The row of horsetail growing outside and the wall that blocks the street; the cash register, the graffiti art on the walls—those are modern. But otherwise, there's an uncanny time capsule vibe that may have you considering solar power, or your own organic vegetable start-up.

"The thing about Midcentury Modern is, I love the clean lines, the overall feel of it—but there's no soul to it," Walker says. And so eVocal's frame of reference begins about 20 years after the war—1966, say—when the natural woods and raw materials that Orange County developers like Joseph Eichler had used 10 years previous started coming back in rounded, warm, homey forms that weren't austere at all. "We like to call it 'urban-modern-organic: modern-organic," Walker says. "We're very influenced by the late '60s, but we also incorporate the urban styles." This explains some of the recycled wood furnishings for sale, and the entrance to the bathroom: a woodsy nook of three short walls that Walker upholstered by nailing up hundreds of tiny little plywood blocks. It's three-dimensional, almost acoustic.

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It's a perfect venue for art—both by design and ambition: as a gallery, eVocal reduces its sales cut to 20 percent. And when blues musician Parker Macy played recently at his record release party, Walker suggested he invite an artist friend to show some works. (The idea that Macy might not know any suitable artists was rejected out-of-hand.) Macy turned to his roommate, painter Tom Broersma of Costa Mesa, for a series of slightly searing acrylics that gave a needed respite from the store's ongoing display.

Predominant throughout eVocal are softer pieces like Jesse Miller's untitled acrylics. Delicately toned landscapes whose most grizzled elements are trees gnarled by the elements, they're only slightly edgier than the late-'70s doctor's office schlock we were finding in thrift stores 10 years ago. But through his color choice, and by cleverly framing them with polished elements of wood—or by incorporating stained glass—Miller manages to reinvigorate old tripe. (It helps that you haven't seen this stuff in a while.) Periodically, abstract works by graffiti artist Damet (Anthony Uranga)—the characteristic fat-formed, brilliant lettering ripped straight from a subway car—break things up. Damet's work seems basic now—but you get the feeling that when he connects with his inner Andre the Giant, it'll be good.

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Broersma's paintings are like a palate cleanser for the mind—removing the reality that what you've just seen draws on so much that came before, and replacing it with the fact that Broersma owes a somewhat different debt. His wall of acrylics—dark, untitled visions of pink monsters on the playground, wolves in gorillas' clothing, soldiers having a smoke, and a spaceman wiener-wagger—springs from the loins of the Juxtapoz crew. His work is finely executed, but even in its finest moments—a skeleton slapping the bare ass of a Rubenesque chick on all fours—it doesn't fully engage. The subjects are to blame.

Broersma's best work here turns out to be a dreary close-up on a mongrel baying in the trash-heap yard of a trailer park. That's because the topic—urban squalor—is one to which we can all relate. Particularly as we leave the naturalistic splendor of eVocal, walking past the cheap hair salons and the row of used cars with signs in white shoe polish. It's right in front of us.

ART BY TOM BROERSMA, JESSE MILLER, DAMET AND OTHERS, AT EVOCAL, 814 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-4548. tues.-sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; SUN., 12-6 p.m. CLOSED MON. free.

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