The Pride of California Art at Brea Art Gallery
For 34 years, the city of Brea Art Gallery has been hosting a locally-treasured art exhibition that highlights California artists and offers visitors a well-rounded look at the current moods and materials dominating the contemporary art practices in California. This exhibit is the most popular for the gallery, garnering massive crowds and over a thousand submissions each year. With awards, prizes, a selective jurying process, and a time-honored exhibition to put on, this show is one of the most reputable annual gallery events in Orange County.
This year’s “Made in California” exhibition, running May 4-June 28, offers visitors some of the most impressive and compelling artworks that we’ve seen at an exhibition in recent years. The variety is thorough and the caliber of work is exceptionally inspiring. With oil and acrylic paintings, wooden and metal sculptures, photography, fiber art, installation, and amazing fine art drawing, this show packs all the best local talent into 6,500 square feet of space, with one area highlighted as a solo exhibition for one stand-out artist.
This year’s solo show within the “Made in California” exhibition, “Thoughts of Phthalo Blue” showcases the work of local Los Angeles-based artist Zara Monet Feeney. Feeney’s paintings are brightly colored visceral explorations in perception and the innate power that painted images have through human understanding and projection. She plays with the way that she layers and involves the imagery in her work and our perceived understanding of color, style, representation, and process of presented images. They hint at photography in their style but have additional surrealistic collage elements that confuse and excite the viewers’ eyes and curious mind.
The rest of the exhibition is chock-full of gems, some of which seem as if they should be in a museum or in their own room they are so powerful and exquisite. Rhea O’Neil’s detailed oil on panel, “The Edge of Paradise,” combines two completely different understandings of “paradise” in one image. A beautiful photorealistic painting shows a pelican type of bird, elegant and regal, nestled in a bush of blooming vine flowers, just next to a foggy bay, with a small peach bow tie around its sweet neck. This bird is tucked into the flower vines and is scarfing down McDonald’s burgers, fries, and ketchup. By its feet is a pile of crumpled McDonald’s garbage, a drink cup, a bag, a burger container and remnants of food. The bird is wide-mouthed and gulping down this food with drips of sauce on its beak as it stares at the enchanting foggy bay. We see two seemingly opposite forms of enjoyment, one of gluttony and man-made mass production, and one of nature and aesthetically beautiful living beings. As a painting it could have many implications and critiques, but its fascinating irony and exquisite detail speak its power very clearly as an image.
Another piece that drew crowds upon sight was “Made from Concentrate” by The Happy Joy, aka Patrick Pascual. A combination of street art, graphic illustration and collage painting, made with acrylic paint and ink on canvas, this piece is hypnotic with its bright colors and street art-inspired imagery. It portrays a collection of dazed heads, intoxicated or perhaps simply numb; next to them is a collection of images referencing city life — street signs, power lines, graffiti smiley faces, cement walls, brain matter and a variety of small images rendered with very different technical styles. It lives on the wall as an attractive artwork but also creates a complex juxtaposing assortment of images that relay a critique or possible celebration on the experience or enjoyment of things made from concentrate.
In the central space, installations battle for attention with mind-bending wall art and sculptures alike, but one quiet piece stops you dead in your tracks upon seeing it. An enchanted chair seems to be growing out of a pile of dirt and walnuts on the gallery floor — this chair’s legs are wooden roots that seem to grow into straight, planed legs to fit in our understanding of what a chair should look like. This object by Kira Vollman offers a seat way too high for use and a back that starts off expected and then transforms into more branches as it reaches to the ceiling of the gallery space. Its technique is so well done you don’t even question its authenticity as a magical object until you remember where you are. It is as if the chair is trying to fool viewers into thinking it’s a chair, while it finds a way out, up and through the space.
Molly Schulman’s “LACMA Quick Shop Painting (Magritte)” painting is a satirical exploration further into Rene Magritte’s initial idea with “The Treachery of Images,” of which this piece is appropriating. This painting also finds an interesting way to comment on our art institutions’ willingness to commodify fine art until the hard work and innovation of the art is in just a meme. With a clever addition of a three-dimensional mouse hand and “quick shop” button, it is a simple but powerful painting that sheds light on larger art world issues while still referencing the innovations in art history.
There are too many amazing works of art on view in this show to mention all of them, but each artwork feels special and worthy of our time and view. Glass artists Elijah Wooldridge and Sheila Noseworthy play with our perception in their stunning works, expanding viewers’ understanding the possibilities of glass as a medium, while Kerri Sabine-Wolf, Go Woon Choi and Lanise Howard defy expectations with their exquisite paintings, creating haunting and thought-provoking imagery with every brushstroke.
The “Made in California” exhibition is an open call juried show that brings in more than 1,000 entries every year from artists looking to be included in this amazing survey of contemporary California art. This year’s artwork selection is chosen by a panel including the Brea Gallery Director Heather Bowling, curatorial staff and this year’s guest juror, Irvine-based artist and former Irvine Fine Art Center curator Yevgeniya Mikhailik.