La Jolla Art Association’s summer show delightfully breaks out of the norm
By Will Bowen
The La Jolla Art Association’s recent “Summer Magic” gallery exhibit (July 30-Aug. 12) was a refreshing surprise and a delight to the senses. There were some very colorful and very different types of art in the show — not at all the usual art association-style coast landscapes, children playing at the beach and still lifes. The pieces in “Summer Magic” were a demonstration of the mastery of such painterly concepts as hue, chroma and value.
Lead artist and curator of the show, Cyndy Klong, said she put on the exhibit “to celebrate our summer visitors with images of the beach and San Diego as a point of interest and a destination. I selected all my favorite artists, including some from the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild. There were more than 50 paintings from 21 different artists in the show.”
Three of these artists stand out from the crowd for doing something unique: Mikhail Khodzhayauk, Artie Matteson and Phoebe Burnham.
Russian painter Khodzhayauk painted some large, strikingly bright, simplistic Mexican Rivera beach scenes inspired by the colors and customs of Mexican folklore and making use of numerous dots of colors.
The use of the dots as a technique is something you do not see often and was well executed. Khodzhayauk’s paintings reach out to you, grab you by the eyes, and take you on a journey of interest around his paintings.
Matteson created some wonderfully crowded pen-and-pencil drawings in the children’s book illustration-style that tied together all kinds of unrelated subjects in a circus of color and activity. Matteson said she used an Aaron Brothers’ disposable pen with colored pencils to make her drawings.
“Mine is a whimsical approach with a potpourri of local scenes, or a travelogue, made just to enjoy from a positive perspective. Basically, it all just came out of the tip of my pen in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.”
One of her drawings, called “Lost in Space,” featured a string of astronauts floating in space near the Apollo space capsule with the Moon Rover nearby, but below is an Egyptian barge floating down the Nile toward a Victorian house where salmon are seated at a table dining, and members of Matteson’s family are frolicking nearby.
“The inspiration for the drawing was that my father was a space scientist,” she said.
Matteson said she developed her style of drawing while at the California College of the Arts. In her various classes she would illustrate the teachers’ lectures with drawings that helped her remember the material.
“I like cats and reptiles,” she said. “One of my sons is a herpetologist and the other is a train conductor, and my two twins are musicians with their own group called ‘The Mattson 2.’ They will be giving a concert at Humphreys by the Bay soon.”
Burnham is 92 years old and still paints everyday. She is the Grandma Moses of LJAA. “I moved here from Massachusetts in 1950 and never left,” she laughed.
Burnham attributes her longevity and good health to “clean living, high moral character, a good sense of humor, awesome genes, and a glass of wine at dinner … and sometimes lunch.”
Burnham has a wonderful painting in the show of a toad golfer who has discovered his golf ball has landed in a heron’s nest. It is called “Mr. Toad Gets a Birdie on the 9th Hole.”
“I painted it as a joke for my son who is a golfer. I actually found a knick-knack statue of a toad golfer with his ball in a heron’s nest at an Amvets thrift store (my ‘purchase therapy’ store), so I used that as my model for the painting.”
Burnham had another painting of Scotch dancers in Descanso in the show and she brought in a wonderful painting of her great-granddaughter, which she titled, “Burnham’s Birth of Venus 2012.”
The painting parodies Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” but instead of Venus, Burnham paints her great-granddaughter arms raised, holding a banana, standing in a bowl of fruit with Lake Tahoe as a background. Her great-granddaughter, who is so very young, has the wisdom of age in her eyes. All the different aspects of the painting were brought together with unrelated photographs as their model.
The wonder of this painting is how it deconstructs the conventions of still life, portraits and landscapes, and the zeitgeist about them that has developed at LJAA. The result is a welcome antidote to serious business of creating illusions with paints.
The three painters mentioned point to a trend that is sorely needed at LJAA in order to make it a great institution of art making. There needs to be more work presented that challenges convention or pushes the edge of the discipline or develops new use of technique and much more work that is socially engaged or social conscious — art that can help us better see or understand the world, or who we are, or where we are going.
Art should not always just be about the narcissistic engulfment in making pretty pictures, nor the display of mastered skills and talents.
In the wings
La Jolla Art Association’s next exhibit will be “All Good Things Are Wild and Free,” Aug. 27-Sept.9, with an opening reception, 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1 at 8100 Paseo del Ocaso, La Jolla Shores. For more information, call (858) 459-1196
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