Renowned socio-biologist E.O.Wilson stated in his book “The Social Conquest of Earth,” “Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world…. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life“
This is the reality that twenty Southern California artists now exhibiting at the El Camino College Art Gallery (to March 7) address in their show “Washed Up: Ocean in Peril.” Beautifully hung by the gallery’s director Susanna Meiers, it presents a wide selection of artistic styles from artists concerned about the steady pollution and habitat destruction of the earth’s oceans.
In the February issue of “ArtScene,” the artist Suvan Geer points out in her review of this show that earth is more blue than green, that as “…land dwellers…” our …”perspective often colors our imagination and limits our vision.”
While this art exhibit will not turn our species around, it will certainly leave an impression on the college’s student body that we are inheriting an increasingly hostile environment in which to live in. As is normal for most group shows, there’s a wide range between the message and the visual presentation. Yet in spite of this, all the art presented relates to our oceanic problem.
The exhibit opens with three identical clay slabs, lightly fired to make them permanent, on a wall created by George Geyer, a former San Diego City ocean lifeguard and a sculptor whose work I have long admired. The clay slabs were originally unfired and hung off a pier in a Newport back bay to be eroded by tidal flow. This project was motivated by Geyer’s dismay at the amount of debris being pushed daily into the bay by tidal surge. He has hung these residual exhibition slabs in the gallery as a testament to the effects of our active ocean pollution; call it a sort of organic evidentiary documentation. To appreciate the erosion, Geyer sketched out the original shape of the slabs on the gallery wall for the viewer to appreciate just how much has been lost.
Geyer’s slabs were visually echoed by amazingly beautiful ceramic-textured, mono print slabs created by artist Joyce Kohl. It’s hard not to fall in love with Kohl’s elegantly fashioned, organically repetitive patterns and sediment remains that warp about as if moved by the ocean flowing above them. Kohl manages to create pieces that flawlessly merge visual spontaneity with carefully planned shapes and are among the gems in this show.
Also of note was a huge sculptural relief montage by artist Lowell Nickel entitled, “Flotsam Clusters,” created solely (pun intended) from the ordinary shoes and sandals of visiting beach lovers lost in the sand or washed in with the tide. What is not quickly apparent is that Nickell has composed an inner negative outline of a shoe’s sole inside the assemblage. Lest the viewer miss the message, Nickell also produces a number of inkjet prints displaying a mass of flotsum, including shoes, swirling in random fashion as if caught in a giant oceanic washing machine.
There are many more interesting works on display, like the sculpture of a whale with a screaming man inside by the artist Lawrence Garcia, whose message will tear at your heart: naval sonar causes intense pain and ultimate death to whales. This exhibit demonstrates the results of sincere art making accompanied by much retinal pleasure effectively communicating the all-so-important message regarding the survival of life on our planet.