Very Picasso!

Artwork by John Brosio/Photo by James BunoanIt's a good thing Laguna Beach's First Thursday Artwalk comes but once a month; it takes at least that much time to recover from all the giddy dreck we're so delighted to traipse through. Mmmm, dreck!

We begin, as ever, at the gorgeous, moderne Seven Degrees, but though it's always got by far the best hors d'oeuvres, its huge rectangular gallery done up in nothing but “dot pieces” by Gina Han had me feeling out of sorts. Large surfaces are covered with irregular, kidney-shaped dots in a texture reminiscent of well-flattened Silly Putty. Some might have varying shades of perfectly complementary olive, others variations on the theme of plum. It was extremely designy, and I expected at any moment to see multicultural claques of art-designer types in unfaded denim and pink sunglasses drinking sponsored fancy vodkas. A friend stepped back to get a proper view and look for hidden messages. “They're not moving or changing or anything!” he hissed, quite clearly shocked at this lack of basic dot-painting management.

We drove to the happening stretch of Coast Highway anchored by Peter Blake Gallery and Laguna Art Museum (LAM). We'd been informed that “Feat of Clay,” the Jerry Rothman retrospective at LAM, was chock-full of cocks, but that wasn't enough to make us subject ourselves to two floors of clay. Okay, yes, it was.

First we stopped into Marc Whitney Gallery, where Whitney shows—ta da!—himself. His large oils in silvery whites and pearly aquas showed sexy, fluffy unmade beds. The works were very sloppy Singer Sargent and hazy, breezy Hopper. While they weren't anything revolutionary, one might be excused for admitting (with the proper hipster shrug and condescension) that they're nice. I'd hang one.

At least, I would have until I saw the centerpiece of the gallery's back wall: a huge oil painting of a tyke surrounded by her own floaty petticoats, which were an absolutely hateful yellow—not so much sunshine as stomach-acid. Plus, you know, it was a picture of a tyke. We left posthaste.

Luckily, two skips away, greenwood chebithes gallery was showing John Brosio's “Reapers.” A series of three large paintings showed long funnel clouds swirling majestically above poor boxy little houses (hopefully abandoned) squatting in the bottom sixth of the panel. The tornadoes are beautifully lighted; they glow like God and have the same Old Testament vengeance. On another wall, the sky's miasma has yet to coalesce into a spinning cloud; it's still gathering strength and speed, but you can see the atmosphere's weight and grit. The paintings are marvelous.

On the other side of the gallery, people were guffawing (but in a good way) over Scott Greene's obsession with sheep and satellite dishes in hallucinatory profusion. One, a bird's-eye view of dozens of sheep herded together, had our wooly friends looking something like maggots in unattended spaghetti, but not gross.

Peter Blake Gallery has some very pleasant Color Fields by Marcia Roberts; they're subtly shifting between cobalt and plum or teal and cerulean. They're not at all cringe-making, and they glow nicely in the middle. Janet Rosener, in the middle gallery, has white-on-white paintings with oval-ish scratches and gauges. She claims they're about Zen purity (and each has a Japanese haiku on the back, most notably “On the bottom/of the mountain well—a single leaf”). Yet one painting, for all its Zen purity, clearly depicted a blue cheese-stuffed martini olive.

Across the street at Deborah Carman Gallery, we were treated to Powerpuff Girl-bright paintings of loopy dogs (Ellen Rose, contact your attorney!) and ceramic dog bowls painted with pictures of loopy dogs. Also, there were corn chips.

We'd saved the best for last. Clay!

Jerry Rothman's five decades began with some large Oompa Loompa dancing statues with ginormous feet and square heads. “It's very Picasso,” my friend drawled. “Too Picasso.”

Two minutes later, we heard someone say, “It's very Picasso.” Painted clay tablets presented themselves more as painting than sculpture—they were almost Giverny, which is tough to accomplish when you work in the unloved medium of clay.

And by the time we hit the next small gallery, there was everything we'd been promised: cocks, balls and more cocks. But even though we'd been warned, we still were shocked, and really, that's hard to do. Photos of walls Rothman had made for Central Park were adorned with penises as large and perfectly scrotumed as the phallic rocket in Austin Powers: Goldmember. Most of them were big and black. My son is still oblivious to “hidden” symbols and can't understand why my friend and I were giggling like cheerleaders, but you might not want to bring your kids.

Soon we were in a room with large 3-D Africanized totems. Protruding from their mouths were not so much tongues as giant pee-pees. A fertility statue had a big, old, slitty clay vagina between huge nipples. With utter nonchalance—instinctively, even—my son mimed tweaking one, and I was shocked to realize he is, in fact, a boy. Jesus.

But call me unfit (and call Child Services): I'd be much more perturbed if he was mooning over airbrushed cherubs in vile petticoats.

Seven Degrees, 891 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-1555. Open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun. by appt.; Marc Whitney Gallery, 350 N. Coast hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-4322. Open daily, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Greenwood Chebithes Gallery, 330 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-0669. Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through Nov. 30; Peter Blake Gallery, 326 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9994. Call for hours. Through Nov. 22; Deborah Carman Gallery, 305 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 464-9709. Call for hours; Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8971. Call for hours. Through Feb. 29, 2004.

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