Big Ideas

When JoAnne Artman made the mistake of asking her painter if anyone else had ever had him do the interior walls of their house—and art gallery—in bright, colliding, tropical shades, he said no. Just the Colombians. Then, one imagines, he shifted the unlit cigar he was champing on from one side of his mouth to the other and gave her the “crazy” sign by twirling a hairy index finger next to his ear. Which would have been funny, but Artman says it didn't happen that way—and this time, the Colombians were right. They were due; it's been since the '70s, that other time they were right, with the white stuff that makes you stay up all night and have better-looking sex with better-looking people.

Blaringly sunny shades of pink and blue are just what's needed to balance Artman's current show, a mash-up of “Connected,” Gary Simpson's somewhat lugubrious abstract frescoes, and Leslie Davis' aloof glass sculptures. The walls warm your mind, while what hangs on them tries to make you think deep and important thoughts.


A big, burly guy, Gary Simpson also has huge ideas. He's currently collecting dirt samples from spots around the world, to use in a large-scale soil painting of many canvases that could someday hang in a place like the United Nations, Artman says. This plan sets you up perfectly for his best piece here: an untitled but very direct entry in his recent Disparity Series, which examines the state of the world in murky organic shades of paint and statistics. Across the bottom of the huge canvas, Simpson carefully added a strip of paper that reads sideways, listing the nations of the world and the percentages of their populations with AIDS. In Afghanistan, which appears near the left corner of the canvas, only 0.01 percent of the population—or 2,993 people—has the disease. Here in the U.S., of course, the toll is monstrous; 0.60 percent of the population (which sounds wrong), or 1,774,405 people, is listed as infected. The numbers are courtesy of CIA World Facts, it says, and as such are somewhat suspect—given the agency's recent stand on allowing Matt Damon to continue making films—but they cast a chilly pall over Simpson's indistinct dark shapes in green and maroon. The work's explanation says he also used shredded dollar bills and brass rod in the canvas—but that wretched column of numbers keeps your mind on the sordid subject at hand

Leslie Davis' works—a series of cast-glass sculptures, and two blown vases—couldn't be more different, both from Simpson's frescoes and from each other. First visible are a handful of her cast-glass sculptures—none of which would be out-of-place in the zen room of an Orange County Philharmonic design house. Outside View is one of these. A half-inch-thick sheet of opaque glass roughly 12-by-24 inches pierced with periodic star-shaped cutouts, it's suspended upright in a metal framing that's vaguely Arts N Crafts style. We're guessing it's titled this way because you can see through it—possibly outside—but Davis' true intent here, as with her other sculptures, is never revealed. In a corner of the showroom, Geishais another cast-glass sheet, this one with a downward arrow shape indented and a splotch of reddish-maroon color embedded at the top. But as a geisha? Not as fun as the ones who laugh at your jokes (and let your eel spit in their cave).

Much tastier to our plebian palate were two small vases tucked away in the corner next to the Geisha. Both shone with craftsmanship and hours of work: Vineyards Brew, a simple burgundy shape, wore an aged copper collar of copper grape leaves. Next to it, Kyoto Autumn looked almost plain—almost. It's a grass green, with an attached black glass base—and just a dab of silvery crackle finish on the side. Perfect for cherry blossoms. Could you make that?


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