Dream Caster

Photo by Ross GeesmanOn the second floor of a strip mall in Costa Mesa, next to the Circle K and above a skate shop, the party was in full swing. The gallery was packed and sweaty, overflowing with pretty young things with tight jeans and coiffed hair. Local artist Aloysious T. Dougherty III worked the crowd, thanked friends for coming to the opening and stuck “Hello, my name is . . .” labels next to his paintings.

For the painter/writer/musician/photographer—who claims Giorgio Armani, Benicio Del Toro and, somehow, the late Charles Bukowski as private collectors—it was just another show. But the opening on Aug. 28 was also the coming-out party for Dante's Inferno. The owners, a mortgage broker and a businessman, leased the place in July and scrambled to open the gallery with a quickie exhibit.

And it showed. While most of Dougherty's large, heavy paintings were impressive, poor organization and the distractingly ugly space—low ceilings; black pillars; and a cheap, busy, blue-speckled carpet—held the exhibit back.

“I saw this space as rough, and that's how I like art,” said gallery owner Trace Kirkpatrick. “I wanted this space to be kind of gritty and turn it into something pretty—a jewel in the rough.”

Despite the proprietors' enthusiasm, the exhibit “Some Pretty Things” desperately needed better pacing—and editing. The walls were crowded and dim, and Dougherty's paintings alternated with smaller framed reproductions of older work, one of which was sloppily set on the ground while others leaned against the window sill, illuminated only by candlelight. None of the curatorial gaffes seem to be Dougherty's fault, and it's a shame they detract so much from his raw yet unabashedly hopeful paintings.

Dougherty paints on coarse wooden pallets, but he has moved on from the obvious dark, tortured subjects. Instead, the paintings are bright and charged with optimism. Girl With Guitar could be something Picasso painted in his blue period, but Dougherty is life-affirming, not somber. He paints the nude woman with a sly smile and uses the grain of the wood to add depth to her bare thigh and texture to her instrument. A row of holes along the horizon creates a quiet rhythm. Walk along Seer and the woman's eye opens and shuts.

Like many of his pieces, When I Am Elected King of Utopia employs decorative folk-art elements and uses text to toy with meaning. A black man with a crown flashes a peace sign and his heart, complete with valves and arteries. Off to the side, using scant punctuation: “Where fair's normal lies are not none are poor nobodys a whore everyone is educated well traveled speaks languages and t heart s are respected and people are happy since there will be a sincere equality for women and racism will be extinct.”

A reproduction of an older work is one of the strongest—and simplest—pieces in the show. The quick sketch shows a bird in flight with the words “today I saw a hawk” written in a childish scrawl. Coffee stains imbue the trees and grass with nostalgia: it's the color of a memory. The piece is more anecdotal, less “finished,” almost like an inside joke. It's refreshing because sometimes Dougherty's newer works practically kick you in the head with the symbolism. One untitled work seems like an obvious assemblage of symbols—a bird, playing cards, a few swirls—and feels formulaic. It's as if he's diagrammed a sentence on canvas: he picks a few choice symbols and adds flourishes just to fill the space.

“A lot of people, besides relationships, leave only receipts when they die,” Dougherty said as the party wound down. “Most don't even leave a diary. I love painting more than anything else I've ever done. It's almost like passing someone one of your dreams.”

“Some Pretty Things” at Dante's Inferno, 2588 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 574-2591. Open daily, noon-9 p.m. Through Tues. Free; prints by Dougherty, along with works by Salvador Dali, can be seen indefinitely.

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