La Jolla’s ‘Steel Goddess’ artist Faiya Fredman reigns at Oceanside Art Museum



At age 93, La Jolla artist Faiya Fredman well deserves being called the matriarch of San Diego’s contemporary art scene, which is how Mark-Elliott Lugo, who curated her new exhibition at Oceanside Museum of Art, refers to her. The show, titled “The Steel Goddess,” features 70 of her notable works from the past 20 years, including large-scale steel sculptures, watercolors, lenticular prints, and mixed-media pieces, many of them created especially for this exhibit.

Since 1951, when she graduated from UCLA’s Visual Arts Department, Fredman has been experimenting with a wide range of materials and techniques. “The Steel Goddess” refers to her continuing high level of fearless exploration as well as the steel goddess figures she began creating in the 1990s, inspired by her travels in Greece and Turkey and her lifelong fascination with ancient civilizations.

I was able to tour the exhibit with curator Mark-Elliott Lugo shortly after its September 1st opening, several days before a special celebration of Fredman’s 93rd birthday, and well in advance of the public reception on Sept. 22, which the artist will attend. Lugo has a decades-long relationship with Fredman, having first shown her work in 2004 at the Pacific Beach Library Gallery, where he was visual arts curator for 15 years. You can see a video interview he did with her at that time just outside the entry to “The Steel Goddess.”

The entry itself is impressive, flanked by two giant-size, wall-mounted steel goddesses. “Faiya created them just for the show, and we had to rust them to her specifications,” Lugo said. “So for about a week, they were laid out on the floor, and I sprayed them with a spray bottle. It worked pretty well.”

Fredman prefers weathered steel, which shows, like withered flowers, the passage of time. “From an early age, she was interested in the process of decay and renewal, whether it’s a flower, a piece of steel, or a whole civilization,” Lugo said. “And all her pieces are untitled: she wants viewers to decide for themselves what they’re about.”

Inside the gallery are a multitude of goddesses, beginning with a wall of 9-inch by 12-inch watercolors and going on to steel figures from nine inches to nine feet tall.

“All the goddesses started out as quick watercolor sketches,” Lugo said. “And Faiya wanted to preserve their gestural quality in steel, which is very hard to do. The steel pieces are fabricated by a local shipbuilder, Miller Marine; she’s been working with the same engineer there, Miguel Gonzalez, for 20 years.”

And talk about cutting-edge techniques! “They used to use torches to cut the steel but now it’s done with high-pressure water cutters,” Lugo explained. “They’re much more refined, and capable of tremendous detail.”

Fredman’s lenticular prints are also tremendously detailed. She builds her compositions on a computer screen, layering scanned images of flowers, leaves, goddesses, masks and puppets. Then they’re sent to a lab in Fresno to be “lenticularized” — a technology that combines the images to produce a single piece that looks three-dimensional and seems to move as you view it from different angles. Walk slowly past each luminous print and you’ll see an emerging procession of puppets in one and interesting transformations in all.

Like the Renaissance masters, Fredman has a team of workers who assist in the production of her work. “She comes up with these wild ideas, and then has to find someone to help her realize them,” Lugo said.

One of the museum’s volunteers called her current show “jaw-dropping.” You’ll probably agree. And don’t miss the gift shop, where there are translucent scarves, handbags and other Faiya-phernalia so you can walk out wearing her art. “I’m becoming a cottage industry!” said the artist.

Happy birthday, Faiya! Can’t wait to see what you’ll be doing at 95!

NOTE: Don’t leave without seeing the new James Hubbell exhibit and the Maidy Morhous show upstairs, and Fred Tomaselli’s work in the other main floor gallery.

IF YOU GO: “The Steel Goddess: Works by Faiya Fredman 1998-2018,” is on view through Jan. 13, 2019 at the Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way, Oceanside. Public reception, 6-8 p.m. Sept. 22, 2018. Museum hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday: Cost: $5-$8. First Sundays free. (760) 435-3720.