CULTURE WATCH ‚Äî With Bergamot Art Station redevelopment leading the headlines, it‚Äôs nice to remember what Bergamot actually is: a pretty darned great collection of galleries and a local museum, all of which offer an eye-delighting and/or intellectually intriguing array of arts, open to the public.
This past week on my way to hear Gronk‚Äôs artist talk at Lora Schlesinger Gallery, I arrived late and couldn‚Äôt get in. This is actually good news, it means that there are lots of people interested in art and what the artist has to say about it. The crowd spilled out the door and onto the exterior platform where it was impossible to hear him discussing his latest exhibition, “Ruins.”
Gronk has a storied history as an East L.A.-born artist who in the 1970s was part of the landmark Chicano multimedia artists‚Äô collective ASCO. Creator of murals and street happenings, he is largely a self-taught painter, performance artist and printmaker. His work is exuberant even when tackling darker subjects using more muted palettes. His abstracts and patterns explode across canvases. His figurative work has a monumental quality.
“Ruins” is his first solo show at Lora Schlesinger, and it consists of set design paintings and prints he created for, and in response to his experience of working with, opera impresario Peter Sellars.
They‚Äôd collaborated in 2011 on the challenging Vivaldi/Goldoni opera “Griselda” at Santa Fe Opera. Sellars thought Gronk was a perfect match for his 2013 Santa Fe Opera production of Henry Purcell‚Äôs “The Indian Queen,” which tells the story of a Mayan tribal chief‚Äôs daughter taken prisoner by a Spanish general, who eventually falls in love with her captor even as the Spanish destroy her people.
Gronk‚Äôs take on the opera‚Äôs themes include the earth-toned, red-clay palette of his series “Pyramids,” alternating with graffiti-esque, scribbly, brightly-patterned colorful markings, and the solidly bold painting “Tormenta,” and one of a larger series of “Tormenta” paintings that he is renowned for.
Gronk should be on your art radar and if he‚Äôs not, take some time out to visit Lora Schlesinger Gallery, located in the western-most building (Gallery T-8) at Bergamot, near the 26th street exit and adjacent to City Garage. www.loraschlesinger.com or call (310) 828-1133 for hours and details.
LATIN AMERICAN MASTERS
Since I didn‚Äôt get to hear Gronk, I walked east through Bergamot, first stopping in at Latin American Masters. A group show currently fills the gallery space through Oct. 4, including work by acknowledged masters such as Chilean Roberto Matta, and Mexicans David Alfaro Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo.
But dominating the walls is a series of striking paintings by a man whose name I was not familiar with, Fernando de Szyszlo, born in Peru in 1925 of a Peruvian mother of Spanish-Indian descent and a Polish father. The 89-year-old is still actively making wall-sized artworks, an impressive feat when you consider the size of the canvases, the physical labor involved in painting them and his advanced age, but even more so for the imagery.
Three red-dominant paintings with totemic fantasy images present a surreal combination of primitive Pre-Columbian masks, figures and feathers juxtaposed against contemporary architectural elements, reminiscent of a factory-style building or a dining table that morphs into the shape of a pueblo.
A black and white painting is just as intriguing and shape-shifting, composed of contrapuntal horizontal and vertical lines representing a totem, a cross, a wall, a fence. Mario Vargas Llosa, the revered Nobel Prize winning Peruvian writer, wrote this: “Fernando de Szyszlo‚Äôs paintings delineate a vast, diverse and vertiginous geography, a labyrinth where even the most adept explorers could lose their way.”
Stop by Latin American Masters; www.latinamericanmasters.com or call (310) 829-4455 for more info.
THE ARTISTS GALLERY
TAG, The Artists Gallery, is showing the lovely works of Pamela Douglas, who is inspired by ancient Asian art. “The Long Thread” series is comprised of works painted and drawn on rice paper and raw silk, enhanced with yarn, twine, rope, and string, featuring evocative images that will put you in mind of meditation paintings, some in celestial shapes, others more primal and biomorphic, with a soft-washed look devoid of boundary lines, depicting a sense of flowing connectedness. www.taggallery.net or (310) 829-9556.
ART AND ALZHEIMERS
I wish I‚Äôd known ahead of time that West L.A.-based OPICA, the Adult Day Program and Counseling Center, was holding its annual “Outsider/Insider” fundraising art show at Bergamot. It featured artworks by members of OPICA‚Äôs Open Art Studio, for $150 apiece, and took place last Saturday.
OPICA is privately funded, relying on program fees and donations to present such worthy programs as its Brain Train series for individuals experiencing early-stage memory loss. Brain Train activities stimulate mind, body and spirit and provide a safe place for social communication and friendship. A caregiver support group is available as well.
The Open Art Studio initiative engages participants in the art-making process to help foster confidence, sometimes unlocking a hidden talent, and expanding creativity while building a sense of community.
To be brutally honest, some of the pieces are very child-like, but they aren‚Äôt being judged as gallery-worthy art. And yet, there were several surprises as well.
Artist Helena created curved shapes in expanding bands of rainbow colors, one piece called “Movement,” and the other two, “Seashore” and “Waves.” Hung together these would make a really nice wall trio.
And I am curious about the precise, but folk-art style oversized cartoon heads that Gene created in “Three Opicans” and “The Quiet Man.” Next to his “Sky and Water,” “The Universe in a Picture” and “The World,” these pieces could actually stand alongside other contemporary artwork being shown in galleries.
If you have a loved one with memory issues, visit www.opica.org or call (310) 458-0226.
Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.