Irvine Fine Arts Center's juried “All-Media 2013” is damn good this year and exactly what you would expect from jurist Grace Kook-Anderson, curator at Laguna Art Museum: every wall lined with at least some adventurous work, cleanly presented, zero clutter, most of it intriguing enough to engage and hold you in conversation with its ideas and images.
As in years past, it's the photography that is some of the most vibrant and exciting work. Levels of black and white are stacked on top of one another in Byong-Ho (Brad) Kim's captivating Setting Sun, the fiery star in the horizon behind a freighter illuminating the clouds above it like some atomic explosion while darkening the water below. Jim Sinsheimer's color Morning Light also plays with dark and light, reveling in the grimy walls and bright new brick of buildings. I fell in love with Paris all over again while looking at the pitted gargoyle overlooking the city in the foreground of Joshua Tann's Watching. In Jacques Garnier's stoic black-and-white Revisiting, we're dwarfed as we look up at a monolithic underpass, the picture slightly blurred, the air around it thick and dirty with what looks like the worst smog I've ever seen. I was ambivalent about the subject matter of honorable-mention-winner Nancy Young's Soest Guitar (The Barn)—home of the Orange independent guitar-repair shop—but I loved her composition.
Not sure what I was seeing in the grid of 20 inkjet prints that are Casey Wyman's Room 226: A compendium of scratches, cuts, circles and nicks; smears of red paint; epithets; and dark streaks carved onto a surface the color of cadaver skin, it could be the scarred Formica of a drafting table or a killing-room wall out of Saw. The uneasiness is exacerbated by the soundtrack of Wyman's untitled, honorable-mention-winning video nearby, with its quickly edited shots of traffic lights, rain and slick asphalt, vocals intoning, “green green stop stop” and, “red red go go.”
Death and the abattoir is the name of the game in artist Connie Lane's unforgettable mixed-media Reflect. It's an abstract, slumped over, headless torso, with zippers in the mossy painted material open as if the flesh were being rent, the neck resembling a knothole in a tree, rough surfaces painted and re-painted with different paints, with the slightest streaks of gold also present. The sculpture sits on a glass table, so that when you lean in to get a closer look, you'll see yourself reflected in the glass. As if that isn't horrifying enough, when you turn around, another piece that seems severed from the figure hangs above and behind your head. The texture is part tree trunk, part burned tri-tip, part rotting yam, a metal brace sewn into the skin. Lynchings, the movie Seven and animal corpses hanging from the store window of a Chinese butcher shop all come to mind.
From a completely different direction, sculptor Emilia Sadeghi's Cubist horse bronze, Rak-stt, is perched on a black pedestal, but there's little darkness in this glorious chess piece come to life, its coat a sharp, multilayered armor in constant flux. A tiny face rests in a hole on its back. Is it a Trojan horse?
Paintings and collages round out the rest of the show: Jacki Long's mixed-media portrait of reflective ginger Sarah against a backdrop of advertising headlines and URLs caught my eye and wouldn't let it go. So did Darren Bordier's digital collages Screenplay #16 and Screenplay #11, their black-and-white images of pigeons, Indian-head test patterns, trapeze artists and blond bombshells pasted together to make droll, if not completely comprehensible, dents in the imagination. I liked the solitariness of Ruth Yuhas' painting, Strings, with its pair of sneakers caught on a flurry of crisscrossed power lines, as well as Kerri Sabine-Wolf's understated painting of a dead sparrow, A Little Tragedy.
There's also plenty of stillness in second-place-winner Mark Gregory Hosmer's photo-realistic The Red Door. Using light more evocatively than anything in Thomas Kinkade's oeuvre, Hosmer's front porch feels voyeuristic and sentimental, making us wish we lived there while also drawing us in to make out what's behind the dim illumination of the living-room blinds. The first-place winner, oil painting Standing Self Portrait by Dennis Carrie, features the artist in a doorway, arms at his side, face calm, his eyes aggressively following the viewer around the gallery like one of those creepy holographic-Jesus paintings. Junghwa Hong's expertly crafted Art In Market is an Ikea aisle in which you pick up a piece of art as you walk down its long stretch of cement walkway, the lines of the shopping carts and prison gray of the warehouse shelving prominently lit by fluorescent bulbs and scoop lighting high up in the ceiling. An incisive rebuke to the idea of art as just another empty commodity, her painting feels like a stomach punch and, as with much of the fine work in this stellar exhibition, more than welcome.
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.