For a case study in the possibilities of curation, consider a visit to “PaperWorks Refolded” at Brea Gallery. Director and curator Heather Bowling has made stellar choices in her artists; the show’s layout is seamless; and her interactive collage and origami pit stops allow people to effectively put what they’re seeing into practice. The sequel to a previous Brea Gallery show built around works made of paper, Bowling’s exhibition qualifies as some of the very best art I’ve seen this year.
Margaret Griffith’s paper ironwork, hanging in loops from the main gallery’s ceiling, resembles spiky, barred gates crashing into one another, tumultuous waves of black and ivory. Alexis Arnold’s Borax-dipped novel sculptures are pretty enough to be Martha Stewart decorations, their shiny crystal coatings suggesting words and ideas frozen in time: a bulky copy of Ayn Rand’s crapfest The Fountainhead an autopsied fossil of mediocre philosophy; Arnold’s artier version of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One doubling down on its pop-culture fetishization.
Nikki Rosato’s dissected images use vintage road maps’ thoroughfares, roads and highways, whittling away at their land masses, until they create two people gazing into each other’s eyes (Couple: Boston, MA). It’s the kind of art that dazzles the mind, making you wonder how someone could have possibly come up with such a brilliant idea. I’m grateful she did, as her genius metaphors for connection, internal emotional maps and personal travel histories all connected deeply with me.
Aimée Baldwin uses the thin fragility of paper to re-create entirely believable plants and flowers in elegant shadowboxes, her fauna including cruelty-free “vegan taxidermy” paper birds. They’re masterpieces of time and tender craftsmanship, with an eye-catching favorite being a peregrine falcon feasting on the bloody tissue of a pigeon that it has downed.
Just as exciting are the flowers and cityscapes of artistic duo JUDiTH + ROLFE, with their colorful, swirling floral designs as elegant and shapely as the real thing, their ornate, re-created architecture—balconies, windows and latticework—from Venice, Jali and Notre Dame instantly recognizable even without their descriptive titles.
Kiel Johnson’s deft, intricate sculptures of SLR cameras, a boombox and cassettes, trumpets, and the crowded urban sprawl of a River Front resemble toys for adults, ones you’d admire after putting them up on a shelf and away from the kids. Adrienne Heloise’s historical images of Napoleon’s armies lack the overt homoeroticism of some of her other pictures in the series, but there’s still enough naked flesh, water glancing off a chin (Waterboy) and men gazing into each other’s eyes to offer frisson, while still vague enough that it takes time for meanings to weave into your consciousness.
Less elaborate but just as elegant is Brian Singer’s Geometry #5, vintage books cut and pressed and covered in acrylic and resin until the result looks like a section of parquet flooring. It’s a fine testament to what imagination and vision—as well as a good pair of scissors—can do.
“PaperWorks Refolded” at the Brea Gallery, 1 Civic Center Circle, Ste. 1, Brea, (714) 990-7730; www.breagallery.com. Open Wed.-Sun., noon-5 p.m. Through Sept. 14. $3.
* * * * *
I’m 15 minutes late to the soft opening of painter Tony Pinto’s “Artist Seen” at the Art Institute of California—Orange County. Friends and family are rushing about to get his solo show up, the walls already lined with pencil marks and applied magnetacks; 103 photos are splayed out, while seven oil-painted heads, all bubble-wrapped, sit on the floor, waiting for their turn.
Pinto’s open call to photograph artists of all kinds, people he knew and people he has now gotten to know, was intended as the first step for source material in creating dimensional painted portraits. Pinto’s photography easily captures the personality of the individuals—pensive, focused, self-deprecating or silly—each face different enough that they don’t become a series of mug shots.
The artist walks me through, detailing the particular gifts of each subject—graphic novelist, furniture designer, curator, brand manager, painter, etc.—but most are Los Angeles and Long Beach artists that I barely knew or didn’t recognize at all, with only a handful of the photos OC-based, including curator Evan Senn and painter Vonn Sumner. The gridded layout, with some of the artists looking straight at the camera and others to the side, gives the wall a communal Brady Bunch feel . . . if the Bradys had tattoos, dressed in black or had unfortunate facial hair. The painted heads—including local painters David Michael Lee and Jane Bauman—are flat plywood, but they protrude from the wall instead of resting against it, the shadows under and to the side giving each a 3D effect not unlike a hunter’s trophy.
Even in its unfinished state, Pinto’s is a generous show, warm and inviting, revealing and honoring a much larger community than most of us recognize. Until he plays catch-up with his paintings—with more portraits of Orange County artists, hopefully—this test run for a grander, more fully developed and represented show is a great beginning.
“Artist Seen” at the Art Institute of California—Orange County, 3601 W. Sunflower, Santa Ana; www.facebook.com/events/2047376192178759. Open Mon.-Thurs., 6 a.m.-midnight; Fri., 6 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Through Oct. 6. Free.
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.