Rothick Art Haus Closes With a Hayao Miyazaki Tribute

At the end of this month, 6-year-old independent gallery Rothick Art Haus will close shop. Husband-and-wife team Kelly Castillo and Nick Rothweiler, two of Orange County's consistently interesting curators, will transmogrify their intimate space into DRK HAUS Fine Art Photography. We'll write more about them when they've made the change-over, but here's your last chance to get a taste of what Rothick did so well: Their last gesture of artistic goodwill is hosting 3tArts' “Spirit of the Wind: A Studio Ghibli Tribute Show.”

Arriving from the pop-obsessed trio of Katie McAtee, Stephanie Han and Jane Estantino—the 3tArts curators behind last year's wildly successful “Moon Crisis: A Sailor Moon Tribute Art Show”—”Spirit” focuses on genius Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, the animation company he co-founded in 1985 after the release of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Beloved in Japan, an underground U.S. favorite via bootlegs, Studio Ghibli skyrocketed to international attention when Disney began distributing its anime, including My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away.

In Studio Ghibli's pioneering work, young women don't transform into goddesses to be strong and smart; equally adept at healing, wielding a bow and arrow, or starting their own business, they face their conflicts head on, triumphing against the darkly chaotic, often magical forces arrayed against them. Despite the claim that it's a Studio Ghibli tribute, there seems to be some confusion on the part of the curators, since the show basically focuses on Miyazaki's oeuvre and riffs on his popular imagery, with only a negligible handful tackling movies he didn't direct. (As a side note, the Nausicaä pieces shouldn't be in the show at all; even though Miyazaki directed it, it's not a Studio Ghibli film.)

Each artist was chosen by a consensus of its curators, the choice of subject itself solely at the the artist's discretion, hung in an accessible, easy-to-view fashion by McAtee, with much of the art perfect for any imaginative child's bedroom, but also appealing to adults. Jeff Thomas' watercolor of Sheeta and Pazu from Laputa: Castle In the Sky, with the two children floating in clouds midair, is an idyll of simple stylization. Sarah Webb's gorgeous New Life also samples imagery from Laputa, but in a lush way reminiscent of illustrators William James Aylward and Howard Pyle. The mossy robot makes another appearance in Grace Kim's gentle watercolor and gouache Ghibli Creatures, wrapping metallic arms protectively around susuwatari (soot sprites), Totoros and kodama (tree spirits).

Leslie Strock's paper and gouache work is filled with an infectiously joyful life and movement. Her Arriety's [sic] bright-red dress blossoms out as the miniature girl bounces on a flower, and I was infatuated enough with her Kiki—the young witch flying on her broom alongside friend Tombo, who's riding a bike—that I bought it myself. Jackie Huang's deft work with paper is repeated in the layers of Totoro Stroll, the title character walking through a forest while holding hands with the Chu Totoro, as the tiny white Chibi Totoro balances on his head. Diane Nguyen's stunning mixed media To You is two shadow boxes, one with a paper figure of goldfish princess Ponyo underwater, and one with Sosuke, the boy that loves her, by the seaside. Foya's robust watercolor of Chihiro running through the creepy, brightly colored ghost world in Spirited Away is a real find, with the flip side, Watchers In the Wood by Drew Walker, a dark charcoal and Conté drawing of Ashitaka and his elk, with San up a tree filled with kodama, spying on him, like something out of Grimm's.

The most imaginative include Lian's very cool Copic marker and India ink Yankee Spirit, posing five male characters as a bespectacled J-pop boy band. YumaRanken's crocheted yarn Totoro mashup—dressed like Oliver, the young protagonist in the video game Ni No Kuni—is also a delight. The most expensive and unusual piece is Vanessa Walon's labor-intensive haute-couture gown, dressed with tulle, feathers and Studio Ghibli characters. There are dozens of equally remarkable pieces I left out here because I wanted to focus on handmade work. While I respect and enjoy art made with software, it doesn't work here because the show is simply too top-heavy with digital prints, a dismal irony in a tribute exhibit celebrating animated films that were primarily drawn by hand.

Not to say “Spirit of the Wind” is a disappointment. As with “Moon Crisis,” 3tArts celebrates the power of young women, including female artists, and provides a place for fans (male and female) to share culture. This is also its last show here in OC—we're losing the group to an LA gallery—and that's a damn shame. There was a LONG line opening night, so both the curators and the gallery are getting a good send-off, but take the time to visit Rothick and 3tArts before they disappear. Thank them for their hard, often-ignored work as innovators, then give them some sugar for us.

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