Buried Treasure: An Artists’ Enclave in Hawthorne Rises to the Surface
When art whistles its tune, sometimes it’s good to go with your instincts.
Although Hawthorne has nourished more than a handful of musicians and songwriters – none better known than The Beach Boys or more neglected, in my songbook, than Emitt Rhodes (cf. The Merry-Go-Round) – no one’s been rattling my cages about the city’s art scene for a long, long time. No one, that is, until Thinh Nguyen suggested my coming over and checking out his enclave of visual artists interspersed among a corridor of garages largely inhabited by mechanics. Just east of busy Prairie Ave., the complex is tucked away in a mostly residential neighborhood.
As for those instincts, they said one word: go. Something good is brewing. Nguyen has arranged an artists’ “block party,” as it were, “Paradoxically in Harmony,” and it’s taking place this coming Saturday evening.
Just a heartbeat away
Tinh Nguyen himself is chatty and affable, and it’s easy to see why people warm to him and feel at ease in his presence. We walked over to meet Scott Meskill and Shannon Donnelly. Meskill doesn’t say much, but, to fall back on the cliché, his work speaks for itself: He builds functional art pieces from reclaimed materials – tables, chairs, benches, lamps. He also creates fountains, miniature waterfalls, and Zen garden-like things that make you want to sit down next to them with a book of verse and a cup of tea.
Meskill and Donnelly have been collaborating on a series called “Abnormal Rhythms.” “The whole idea behind it,” Donnelly says, “is connectivity and [dis-connectivity]. It’s about how our lives cross over, ideas cross over, and ultimately (it’s about) the paths that our heart and soul take us down – and how it all comes together.”
One might describe the work as assemblage art, and the series was initially inspired by the snow tire chains that Donnelly kept finding in thrift shops. “They’re kind of mechanical but spinal at the same time,” she adds. “They feel organic almost.”
It’s not just that these pieces are in the shape of hearts: Donnelly has instilled some heartfelt emotion of her own into them. She wonders who owned these tire chairs and what it was that drove them (other than the vehicles they rode in) to venture into presumably dangerous weather. Or, as she conjectures, “What compels you to go out there is usually something deep-rooted in emotion – and often times it’s love that makes you go out into those treacherous nights.”
Then there’s the play of ideas from different sources tumbling over one another, from electrocardiograms to Echo, the forlorn maiden of myth, deprived of speech by jealous Hera and pining for Narcissus until she melted away. Somehow Meskill and Donnelly’s project sutures these various items into one compelling heartbeat.
“Connie’s work is very visceral and textural,” Nguyen says; “aggressive and in your face, beautiful at the same time.”
He’s referring to Connie DK Lane, whose art packs quite a wallop, in part because these biomorphic, abstractly sculptural forms can suggest bodies – animal or human – that have exploded or been dropped from airplanes (visceral work that hints at viscera, too). That may not be a fair description (it reminds me also of Joseph Beuys, by the way), but the work does manage to be both alluring and repulsive – repulsive in the sense that one may even be apprehensive to approach it: What is this? (a big emphasis on “What”)
The materials, Lane says, are folded, stretched, twisted, and these materials may include papier-mâché mixed or mashed with oatmeal. Much of the resulting imagery comes from her subconscious, and it turns out that years ago Lane lived in Hong Kong and the local meat markets displayed their wares like this, often suspended from the rafters.
“I cannot speak well,” Lane says; “I cannot write well. I think with my hands just like a pencil.” She has reached deep inside of herself and brought seemingly raw substance to the surface – emotions-as-intestines in tangible form, perhaps – and now it’s up to each one of us to visually sift through it and to make it part of our own experience. If we dare…
Nguyen was intrigued by the idea of pairing Lane’s work with Elizabeth Tinglof’s, because even though Tinglof combines and mixes materials (various resins, for example) to create abstract forms with texture, her work, as Nguyen describes it, is more smooth and poetic. It is, however, a great deal more than that:
“I work in many different mediums but I still consider myself a painter,” Tinglof says. Sometimes her painting (because of their substantially I’m a little hesitant to simply call them pictures) hang on the wall in the conventional way, while others may be on the floor or placed on tables and benches. Furthermore, those that actually are on the wall are sometimes protruding from the frame, as if the material is trying to pry itself loose. For Tinglof, her work is process-oriented, meaning that the materials are not only an integral part of what she creates but often determine how each piece evolves (“Sometimes I have no control over it… at times it does what it wants to do.”).
I’d like to quote Tinglof at greater length, because her ideas on materiality and perception, as well as her approach to texture and layering, are worth listening to. Also, there are times when she’s creating where she’ll banish her more recent work from sight. A strange thing for an artist to do, this trying to divest herself of influences. It’s kind of like shedding one’s clothes, thus being better able to proceed unencumbered into new terrain.
“The studio for me is a space of experimentation,” Nguyen says. In his own words, he’s an artist himself, a “conceptual blending artist,” but he seems equally as passionate about promoting the work of other artists. The tireless self-promoters aren’t necessarily the ones we should be listening to, he points out. We need to be alert to those artists who are perhaps soft-spoken and yet courageously staking out realms where there aren’t already a surfeit of other footsteps.
“Everything happens in the studio,” Nguyen continues, a place where ideas can literally be hammered out. “I want to bring the work back into the studio as a way of presentation, as a way of seeing where it comes from.”
Entering the studio or working space of an artist, as opposed to attending a glitzy opening night in a clean, well-lit gallery with hors d’oeuvres and wine, is like sifting through the coffee-stained, dog-eared manuscript of a novelist in contrast to reading a freshly printed, mass-produced copy: It brings us closer to the often messy volcanic source of creativity.
Paulin Paris brings an international flair to this colony of artists on Cordary. Originally from Paris, France, as his name will forever remind us, Paris is immediately engaging, and he ushers us into one gallery where he’s hung numerous brightly colored abstracts by a fellow French artist named Martin Lacroix. “He’s a young, old painter,” Paris says, “more than 80, and I think [his pictures] have a quality of freshness.” The whole room seems to blossom. On the other side of his studio, he continues, “I’m going to present some portraits.” He began painting portraits a few years ago, and there’s a large one of his daughter that captures the eye. There are also intriguing papier-mâché torsos of various colors, and a large collection of art books that one would like to leisurely peruse. Perhaps on another occasion I’ll do just that.
Wait, there’s more!
If there’s one artist who thoroughly impressed me, it’s Bob Wilhite, who considers himself primarily a sculptor, wood being his medium of choice. He rethinks many utilitarian objects (like flatware) that we simply take for granted.
Across the automotive courtyard there’s the smaller, more enclosed studio of Axel Wilhite, Bob’s son, whose surrealist repainting of Japanese playing cards, the kind used for a game called Menko, not only blends Eastern and Western art forms, but the very attitudes inherent in each culture or mindset.
Sean McGaughey works in a studio that looks like a combat zone, and his pictures, of course, are the result of that battle, or perhaps a temporary truce.
These brief visits weren’t nearly long enough, and if the New York-based video artists Michele Beck and Jorge Calvo had been in town there would be much more to say. Beck and Calvo will project their work on the walls on opening night.
Nguyen says the evening will include a curbside food truck catering for patrons, and a live performance by the group Special Blend. Like a true impresario, he promises more such events as we roll into summer.
“What I find wonderful about Thinh,” says Elizabeth Tinglof, “is that when he sees an artist or enjoys an artist’s work he likes to go the other way and also curate. When he decides to curate it’s not a self-promoting type of thing. (Instead, it’s) ‘I love these artists; I want to show their work.’ So then he stays in the background even though he’s an artist as well. He’s very generous.”
“Paradoxically in Harmony”
Reception: March 8
Time: 6 to 9 p.m.
Place: 13709 Cordary Avenue, Hawthorne
(714) 345-5086 or email@example.com