Still thinking! South Bay artists head to Fullerton; reception on June 4
Local artists are breaching the Orange Curtain
by Bondo Wyszpolski
“Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?” is the title of an art show conceived before the pandemic, and eventually shown at the Palos Verdes Art Center in the Fall of 2021 and then reprised, with modifications, in the Malaga Cove Library Art Gallery in February of 2022. Now, with an assist from artist Bridget Duffy, it’s opening yet again, this time with a reception on June 4 at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.One good thing is that these 35 South Bay artists are now exhibiting in Orange County, and for most of them this is a new audience.
The project evolved from a concept — create a picture from the title you found in your fortune cookie (a title my colleagues and I put there) — and a challenge: make the work in such a way that it is unlike your usual style or technique, or use different materials.
Three and a half years later, the requirements haven’t changed. Many of the same pieces are being shown again (after all, the folks in Fullerton are unlikely to have seen them), but some artists have made new versions of the same title, while others have moved on, to be replaced by new artists. In a few cases artists have requested a second title and may or may not exhibit the new work along with their first endeavor.
In response to the question, What’s new? here’s a preview with a few brand new pictures.
Fei Alexander’s “Fear of the Mouse” is a stunning work, seen in both previous shows, and she’s made a second piece, “She Told Me About the Girl Who Lost Her Favorite Dragon.” It’s a melancholy painting, symbolizing one’s lost youth, “as if her dragon nature floated away from her golden days,” Fei writes. “A pair of weathered hands are still trying to hold onto the vanished white moonlight.”Louisa McHugh received the title “Don’t Forget, Tomorrow We Go Into Hiding,” and the picture shows a young woman with her infant daughter, their belongings packed, and waiting. The viewer’s reaction is likely to be What happened? Why must they quickly evacuate? Where are they going or being taken? What appears to be a relatively calm painting now raises unanswered questions.
“Well, this was definitely something different for me,” Louisa notes. “I went with acrylic instead of watercolor. I imagined a scene of people fleeing war with this title…” And, even knowing that, the viewer will continue to wonder: Which war? Where? Against which enemy?
“I flipped the switch on ‘I Woke Up in King Kong’s Body,’” says Karen Wharton, “with the reflection of a large silverback gorilla and the African continent within the eye of a Hollywood actress.” She points out that the first “King Kong” film was released in 1933 and also that silverback gorillas can be six feet tall and weigh 500 pounds, not realizing, perhaps, that she’s also describing some NFL linebackers. However, not to upset the applecart, King Kong came from Skull Island (in the Indian Ocean, west of Sumatra) and not from the African continent. But we’ll overlook this gaffe, just this once.“To the Death! To the Lighthouse” was the title and subject of Jody Wiggins’ previous submission, happily to be exhibited again, along with “One More Time, Before the Dogs Start Barking”. Jody has penned a small essay about what the latter title suggested to her, and while it’s a whimsical, clever work, being the heads of various dogs on a working clock, the meaning she assigns it is more somber, which crunches down to Don’t waste precious time, don’t be egocentric, and treat others with kindness. “How many people bark about what is fair or not fair depending on their underlying selfish wants to make themselves richer?” For Jody, “The dogs represent a foolishness and a self-centeredness of mankind that is destroying our planet, a government that has forgotten what our forefathers wanted, a country that is divided and not united, and a sickness of hatred and prejudice instead of love and acceptance for our multiethnic community.”
In essence, Jody concludes, “I don’t want to be a dog that barks. I want to be a dog that is content with what I have and to give what I can to help others have a better life.”Eileen Oda, like Louisa McHugh, is a new addition to “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?” and her title is the evocative “Until She Climbed Up on the Dinner Table”. What would you depict? A flamenco dancer with one too many flamencos under her belt? An irate stepchild? Eileen knew instantly that whatever she decided on “was going to be challenging, humorous, maybe absurd,” and that her imagination would be tasked “to create art that lived up to it.” This included determining the “she” of the title. Also, Eileen notes, another of the challenges was “to come up with an unusual presentation with a unique perspective. Perhaps, she concluded, that could mean “cutting hundreds of canvases, sculpting them, and then applying oil paint to make all the pieces come alive in 3-D. That might bring a smile and more questions than the title itself.”
The completed work, an exsculpainting, appears to do precisely that.
In fact, the various titles have proved to be springboards for each artist’s fancy, and all together the combined result encompasses the whimsical, the surreal, and the astonishing. Although the artists were encouraged to avoid the strictly abstract, just try and put a leash around an artist once they’ve been invited to participate.For example, let’s turn lastly to Hung Viet Nguyen’s picture, the evolution of which he describes in these words: “In the beginning, I started the painting, “I’m in Love With the Sad One in the Corner,” as it should be, but during the process I changed direction. Instead of following the dramatic title I just went with the flow of patterns and colors. I guessed freedom is more fun — and perhaps more important — than the description while creating artwork.
“And with your imagination,” he adds, “I welcome you to create your own title for this painting.”
Since “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?” is an open-ended question, the viewer can answer yes, maybe, or not at all. These are just a few of the new works, by Beach Cities, San Pedro, and Peninsula artists, about to make their debut in Orange County.
Other pictures we can look forward to include “A Beautiful Leopard Has Entered the Garden and is Toying with Our Children,” by Bronnie Towle, “They Run That Way Because of Their Shoes,” by Margaret Lindsey, and “The Cousin of the Bride of Frankenstein,” by Lois Olsen.
The exhibition opens with a reception from 12 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 4, at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave, Fullerton. About 40 works by 35 artists will be on view. Closes July 31. Call (714) 738-6595 or go to TheMuck.org.
To see more of the work and to hear songs that were composed to accompany many of them, go to areyouthinkingwhatimthinking.art. PEN