One-inch high girls who wonder what it’s like to be tiny. Long-haired boys who can fly. A hungry king who eats the whole world. And a girl who took eight years to devour a whale. Such are the fantasy worlds for sophisticated children that author Shel Silverstein created in his popular poetry book “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
Now, AR4T, a young-at-heart local gallery, 210 N. Coast Highway, has picked up on the magic with a group show of the same title but with a slight twist.
The kids have grown up, having found magic in the cities and suburbs of the U.S. and places beyond, such as Russia and France. During the course of their journeys, they grew into artists.
Ten artists, including the show’s curator and an artist collaborative, have found that special place where streets turn into bucolic paths or vice versa and created colorful places where reality and the imagination converge. It’s also where Chantal deFelice, a Laguna College of Art and Design alumna in her mid-30s, has arranged an installation replete with telephone poles and suggestions of streets melding into the realm of fairytales. Russian-born Yevgeniya Mikhailik’s visual fables and depictions of fantasy forests are filled with giant porcupines and depictions of spirits, such as a red fox that could either be hunter or predator.
Born in 1987, Mikhailik appears to have internalized the Slavic folk lore that still, despite television and Internet, enriches much of Russian and Eastern European artistry. In a somewhat related vein, Nancy Chiu’s “Transition” plays on the theme of “into the woods” and “once upon a time,” except that the traditional Snow White in flight has been replaced by a determined, masked little girl trudging onward under the “gaze” of surrounding trees.
Much of the show’s success must be credited to deFelice’s curatorial skills and her own carefully delineated and just slightly skewed paintings of Los Angeles. They evoke evoke nostalgia for childhoods spent exploring the backyards of suburban houses and hopscotching on cracked sidewalks slowly being reclaimed by nature. A larger painting of a vintage microscope attests to deFelice’s desire to look at life through a variety of lenses. “The microscope is personal metaphor, my own looking glass for transposing things from small to large,” she said.
Since the actual gallery space is comparatively small, deFelice has deftly filled it by creating a visual flow that keeps it from looking cluttered. She also displays some talent as a carpenter, having built props such as the electricity poles and two functional benches serving as “canvasses” for two linear urbanscapes.
Of French and Italian heritage, Liz Brizzi has a different take on the architecture of Los Angeles where she grew up. Collaged photographic elements and architectural lines distinguish images of industrial structures and high rises that hover between representation and abstraction. (Hers include “Sandstorm on Twentynine Palms Highway,” and “Untitled.”)
By contrast, Jennie Cotterill’s diorama, titled “The Cabin,” is pure childish fun. A storybook hillbilly sits on his porch next to a doormat that minces no words regarding visitors and brings to mind the 2010 Laguna Art Museum “Art Shack” exhibition that refreshingly brought high art down to earth.
Sophie Kipner feeds on the child-like spirit by creating cartoonish, cut-out standing figures and bookends. Kipner is also a storyteller whose “Forest Children” features an ostensibly small child out of breath and out of her element in an alien environment. Adding to the fun mix are cloth puppets shaped like octopi and illustrations by Meagan Segal that resemble crosses between vintage story books and medical illustrations and paintings by Allison Peairs, whose “Flight” marries storytelling with classical figuration.
Perhaps one should leave the floor to a group devoted to turning spent spray cans into flowers and other works of art to sum the show’s spirit: “At CANLOVE, we have a special relationship with the spray can. We love them. And because we love them we feel compelled to raise them up and treat them with the respect they deserve. Many think that when the can stops spraying its job is over – that it can be kicked to the curb and left behind. Surprisingly, even after these metallic spray soldiers have emptied they still have so much to offer. We make it our jobs to unlock their latent potential….”