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Finding Innovation and Inspiration at Irvine’s Newest Art Gallery: The Gallery at WorkWell

In the nooks and crannies throughout Irvine, there are small hubs being built, neighborhoods being transformed and needs being met. As the city evolves into a mecca for innovation and inclusivity, spaces like the membership-based coworking destination WorkWell will be much more common. For now, it is a unique and gorgeous gem that can be found in a sea of conglomerates and large companies. WorkWell is a place for independent businesses and self-employed go-getters struggling to find their own small workspace with all the amenities. On top of that, WorkWell has been designed to be a gathering space with weekly, monthly and special events, as well as an open-floor concept fine art gallery.

Photo courtesy of The Gallery at WorkWell

The Gallery at WorkWell is a contemporary art space that offers WorkWell members and the public an opportunity to view interesting and innovative works of art by contemporary emerging artists from all over the world. Although an untraditional art gallery, the Gallery at WorkWell is just as enchanting and inspiring as the WorkWell workspaces.

Currently on view at the Gallery at WorkWell is “Mind the Gap,” an exhibition that explores the gaps or limitations in concepts, materials, experiences and time with three artists as your tour guides. Contemporary artists James Thistlethwaite, Travis Grant and Olivia Elia have starkly different styles of artwork but all manage to muse on the concepts of limitations that they find in their experiences, and in the world around them.

Painting by James Thistlethwaite. Photo courtesy of The Gallery at WorkWell

British born, Laguna Beach-based James Thistlethwaite’s work is a reflective and isolationist experience of material existence. Although his bold use of color in his graphite, charcoal and acrylic artworks is striking, the experiential isolation of his subjects evokes a sense of adventure in a desolate space or place. Much like the WorkWell space itself, Thistlethwaite’s work is sterile, hypnotic and familiar all at once. His subjects feel dramatic, his backgrounds or settings – when present – feel post-apocalyptic or juxtaposed against the casual yet iconic looking figures.

His use of the color yellow feels symbolic but the meaning is vaguely represented. A bright yellow usually symbolizes enlightenment, energy, clarity, optimism or joy, but his slightly tarnished looking yellow has a sharpness to it that may lean more toward caution, jealousy, sickness or fear. These figures are photorealistic, and in most cases covering their heads with hoods or hats, perhaps as a way to protect themselves.

The materials Thistlethwaite uses are also limited – graphite, charcoal, acrylic, paper – these are not forgiving art materials. You can see his determination and meticulous observation in his work. He is approaching the materials with an inquisitive yet defying sensibility, like he is looking for a way to push these materials to their limits.

Painting by Travis Grant. Photo courtesy of The Gallery at WorkWell

Travis Grant is a Kansas City-based artist whose train series of paintings is on view in “Mind the Gap.” These deconstructivist style paintings investigate the gaps between memory and action, past and present, and tangible versus imaginary. His large-scale oil paintings of forgotten or abandoned trains are evocative representations of our collective innovations as human beings while at the same time being a representation of our folly and hubris as we simply leave these huge machines behind like gravestones of our past lives. These huge machines that once may have transported people and items thousands of miles from one place to another, now sit isolated and abandoned in a desolate area like relics.

These paintings sit on the walls in the WorkWell space like ghosts hovering over the quietly working business professionals, silently commenting on the concept of innovation and the advancement of technology and comfort being simultaneously lost and found in the same moment. The irony that stands strong in these gorgeous paintings is the second loudest noise in this space, next to the serene babbling water feature that runs throughout the gallery.

Painting by Olivia Elia. Photo courtesy of The Gallery at WorkWell

Olivia Elia’s photographs also adorn the walls and halls of WorkWell and offer a seemingly calm and minimal aesthetic to the space. However, upon closer inspection, viewers realize that the photos all touch on an aspect of human limitation in our natural world. Specifically exploring the world of fly-fishing and the aftermath of the Tubbs fire in Northern California, Elia finds quiet moments of abstraction, serenity or hypnotic creativity and captures these moments through her photography.

Although a very strange subject matter, fly-fishing proves to contain beautiful moments of clarity and artistry. Elia’s photos find the simple limitations of our humanity and the innovation and invention that humanity has had to create in order to cope with those limitations. The moments she captures through her photography are thoughtful and reflective, where humanity’s coping mechanisms step forward into the limelight and mingle with innovation, fragility, vulnerability and the beauty of design.

WorkWell on the whole seems to explore the communal cooperative ideal but offers boundary-pushing, sensory-pleasing experiences in office environments for businesses big and small, while the art in the Gallery at WorkWell also examines this dichotomy of individual versus  shared experience, identity and life. The Gallery at WorkWell has weekly gathering nights, every Wednesday, where they offer live music, fine art, snacks and refreshments to the public, hoping to encourage the community to make WorkWell a place for not just collab-working but also co-mingling. With quarterly exhibition programming and talented artists from all over the country, the art on display at the Gallery at WorkWell hangs as additional inspiration and engagement for the members of and visitors to this coworking space, further empowering them to transform, interpret and defy the rules and limitations previously recognized.

“Mind the Gap” is on view at the Gallery at WorkWell through December 31, 2018. The Gallery at WorkWell, 17322 Murphy Ave., Irvine, 92614.