Sunday, May 15, 2005

Artists co-op marches with a winner

Review: 'The Journeymen' steals the show at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art.

By DANIELLA WALSH

Special to the Register

Works by Cheryl Ekstrom, Stephen Anderson and Kebe Fox are on exhibit at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, the Santa Ana artists co-operative that, ensconced in spacious quarters in the Artists Village for several years now, has had its ups and downs. The current offerings suggest that things are on an even keel for now.

Ekstrom's "The Journeymen" is a strange amalgam of human and animal shapes in bronze, either bent by the burdens they carry or standing upright holding nothing heavier than an empty sack or a wooden stave. Roughly 2 feet tall, they may also tilt as if buffeted by winds. All are androgynous, with some shrouded or barely covered by cloth.

Line drawings, collaged words and phrases, and snippets from advertisements form the content of Anderson's collages and assemblages. Their thought-provoking centerpiece is an interactive installation titled "American Altar" in which he attempts to draw viewers out on one hand and make them look inside themselves on the other. With the subtle irony that pervades much of his work, he dubbed the overall oeuvre "All I Want to Be Is a Happy Man."

Fox's paintings consist of colorful, multimedia canvases filled with amorphous shapes and androgynous figures that contain somewhat oblique messages. The works' titles draw on wordplay that presumably helps in deciphering the paintings. He titled his body of work "On Leash," a seeming play on unleash.

Anderson and Fox are center members, but Ekstrom, a guest exhibitor, steals the show. Her Journeymen are smaller than some of the monumental works that established her renown. Ekstrom says she created 40 of them as a tribute to Jesus Christ's 40 days in the desert. Their poses are meant to represent both the tribulations and the joys humans experience.

Cast in bronze and either left to darken with age or colored by acid washes, the figures have no discernible features. Some are elongated and rough-hewn like the works of Alberto Giacometti; others are shrouded and suggestive of sci-fi movies, and still others are proud, upright sojourners. Then again, many are completely unclassifiable, figments of Ekstrom's seemingly boundless imagination. Also on display are larger figures carved from plastic foam. Built on steel armatures and placed on elegant stainless steel bases, these figures are compelling as well.

In contrast to the physicality of Ekstrom's work, Anderson's assemblages are conceptual, cerebrally and emotionally engaging rather than visually appealing. Advertisements or words from obscure publications become potent statements about materialism and spiritual decline by being grafted onto wall assemblages centered on cruciforms that are at times clearly recognizable and at others barely discernible.

Then again, his "Commute," is simpler fare. Here, a pendulum labeled "car" swings between two rectangles titled "home" and "work." As the pendulum moves, one becomes aware of the stultifying routine of the car culture. "Grow up" consists of an empty crib festooned with a version of an overhead mobile normally designed to stimulate a baby's visual acumen, here used to display the expectations of adulthood. Instead of colorful shapes, the imaginary tyke gets to contemplate cutouts specifying money, house, car, debt, religion, materialism, commitment and sex.

Such message art is nothing new, but Anderson gives it a fresh twist in "American Altar," where he plumbs his audience's psyche by providing a small table and chair and note pads printed with questions such as "What makes you happy?" or "What do you wish for?" Viewers are to write in their answers and affix them to a large bulletin board. The results run the gamut from surprisingly honest to poignant, mysterious and cheerfully optimistic.

Fox's paintings form a vivid contrast to the subtle elegance of Ekstrom and Anderson. Fox combines abstraction and figuration and oblique messages with results that are intriguing at first but quickly become fatuous, largely due to his choice of titles like "Muster Peace" or "Ms Her." The word acrobatics are gratingly contrived, and his mastery of color becomes quickly undone by annoying black paint lines of demarcation. Since blatant gimmickry tends to make me flee, I took refuge in the back gallery with Ekstrom's room-size blue spider/woman that, I am told, inspires both reveries and nightmares. Finding spiders to be fascinating creatures, I found her intriguing as well.

 

Free-lancer Daniella Walsh has written about visual art for the Register since 1994.

Artists co-op marches with a winner

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Artists co-op marches with a winner

Review: 'The Journeymen' steals the show at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art.
By DANIELLA WALSH

Special to the Register

Works by Cheryl Ekstrom, Stephen Anderson and Kebe Fox are on exhibit at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, the Santa Ana artists co-operative that, ensconced in spacious quarters in the Artists Village for several years now, has had its ups and downs. The current offerings suggest that things are on an even keel for now.
Ekstrom's "The Journeymen" is a strange amalgam of human and animal shapes in bronze, either bent by the burdens they carry or standing upright holding nothing heavier than an empty sack or a wooden stave. Roughly 2 feet tall, they may also tilt as if buffeted by winds. All are androgynous, with some shrouded or barely covered by cloth.
Line drawings, collaged words and phrases, and snippets from advertisements form the content of Anderson's collages and assemblages. Their thought-provoking centerpiece is an interactive installation titled "American Altar" in which he attempts to draw viewers out on one hand and make them look inside themselves on the other. With the subtle irony that pervades much of his work, he dubbed the overall oeuvre "All I Want to Be Is a Happy Man."
Fox's paintings consist of colorful, multimedia canvases filled with amorphous shapes and androgynous figures that contain somewhat oblique messages. The works' titles draw on wordplay that presumably helps in deciphering the paintings. He titled his body of work "On Leash," a seeming play on unleash.
Anderson and Fox are center members, but Ekstrom, a guest exhibitor, steals the show. Her Journeymen are smaller than some of the monumental works that established her renown. Ekstrom says she created 40 of them as a tribute to Jesus Christ's 40 days in the desert. Their poses are meant to represent both the tribulations and the joys humans experience.
Cast in bronze and either left to darken with age or colored by acid washes, the figures have no discernible features. Some are elongated and rough-hewn like the works of Alberto Giacometti; others are shrouded and suggestive of sci-fi movies, and still others are proud, upright sojourners. Then again, many are completely unclassifiable, figments of Ekstrom's seemingly boundless imagination. Also on display are larger figures carved from plastic foam. Built on steel armatures and placed on elegant stainless steel bases, these figures are compelling as well.
In contrast to the physicality of Ekstrom's work, Anderson's assemblages are conceptual, cerebrally and emotionally engaging rather than visually appealing. Advertisements or words from obscure publications become potent statements about materialism and spiritual decline by being grafted onto wall assemblages centered on cruciforms that are at times clearly recognizable and at others barely discernible.
Then again, his "Commute," is simpler fare. Here, a pendulum labeled "car" swings between two rectangles titled "home" and "work." As the pendulum moves, one becomes aware of the stultifying routine of the car culture. "Grow up" consists of an empty crib festooned with a version of an overhead mobile normally designed to stimulate a baby's visual acumen, here used to display the expectations of adulthood. Instead of colorful shapes, the imaginary tyke gets to contemplate cutouts specifying money, house, car, debt, religion, materialism, commitment and sex.
Such message art is nothing new, but Anderson gives it a fresh twist in "American Altar," where he plumbs his audience's psyche by providing a small table and chair and note pads printed with questions such as "What makes you happy?" or "What do you wish for?" Viewers are to write in their answers and affix them to a large bulletin board. The results run the gamut from surprisingly honest to poignant, mysterious and cheerfully optimistic.
Fox's paintings form a vivid contrast to the subtle elegance of Ekstrom and Anderson. Fox combines abstraction and figuration and oblique messages with results that are intriguing at first but quickly become fatuous, largely due to his choice of titles like "Muster Peace" or "Ms Her." The word acrobatics are gratingly contrived, and his mastery of color becomes quickly undone by annoying black paint lines of demarcation. Since blatant gimmickry tends to make me flee, I took refuge in the back gallery with Ekstrom's room-size blue spider/woman that, I am told, inspires both reveries and nightmares. Finding spiders to be fascinating creatures, I found her intriguing as well.
Free-lancer Daniella Walsh has written about visual art for the Register since 1994.