Seven years after his death, Laguna Beach artist Andy Wing (1931-2004) has remained a presence in a community defined by artists, activists and multi-faceted characters.
After moving here from Greenwich, Conn., in 1957, he became the quintessential man for all seasons that created abstract-expressionist, multi-media paintings and stylistic hybrids on the roof of his Laguna Canyon home and in his backyard. He was a plein-air painter who stepped outside to give form to his inner vision. He left behind a sizable body of work, some of which is being revisited at the Art Resource Group gallery in Newport Beach. Specializing in mid-20th century California art, proprietor Miriam Smith is showing “Andy Wing, works from 1954-1997” under the aegis of Pacific Standard Time, the Getty Institute instigated multi-venue celebration of Southern California’s ascent into a world-class art destination.
“There is a strong market for works from the 1950s and ‘60s now, but really, Andy’s work is timeless, in a space by itself,” said Smith. “It’s unique and yet it also resonates with people concerned about the environment and aesthetics removed from an increasingly plastic universe.”
Environmentally conscious viewers and collectors have been attracted by Wing’s combined use of pigments suspended in acrylic substances (a novelty then) and inclusion of natural elements deposited by chance, including footprints from passing animals. Wing eschewed brushes, pouring paint from large cans. He laid out reams of paper, which he covered with paint and then left to chance. If it rained or heavy fog settled before the sun could dry the pieces, all the better to create uniquely cracked surfaces.While he was alive, the Laguna Art Museum and BC Space Gallery both exhibited retrospectives of Wing’s work.
In “The Chances of Andy Wing…” in 2002, Laguna Art Museum’s former director and exhibit curator Bolton Colburn praised the artist for allowing the winds of change to help him create but not alter his vision.
Gallerist Mark Chamberlain said “Andy’s philosophy of life as it pertained to nature was incorporated into his work. He was a very holistic painter whose work will stand up over time.”
“Green” may be a buzzword now, but there, too, Wing was way ahead of his time. “Andy did not preach conservation; he lived by example,” said Wing’s sister, Nancy, a poet who lives in Claremont. During the 1993 fires, for example, Wing and several neighbors reportedly ignored orders to evacuate and held the fire off their homes with garden hoses.
Her sibling was also a prolific writer for whom titling his work was another creative expression. “The In-House Fortune Wheel,” on the surface is a brilliantly red-hued, beautiful painting. Flipped over, the house-shaped canvas reveals the wheel of a wheelchair, hemmed in by wooden stays.“Singleness of presence is in the delicacy of accident, spontaneous texture, infinite glazed and a quietude of grey; of tumult and form, paradox and believe,” wrote Wing to his sister.
Nancy, 88, recalled that when her brother hit financial rough spots and had to rely on food handouts, he still shared it with the less fortunate. He also suffered from Marfen’s Syndrome, which manifests itself through enlarged organs and outsized limbs. When congestive heart failure required surgery in 1982, artists and others led by the late Thoren Nelson raised $35,000. He underwent surgery again in 2002 and died of heart failure in 2004.
Collector Rebecca Nelson said Wing works dominate her home. “His paintings are big and beautiful with their natural elements and bent and shaped recycled elements.” She added that a painting that Wing bequeathed the couple turned into a favorite. “I feel as if I live with Andy’s spirit. Every day it’s ‘Good morning, Andy’ for me,” she said.
Andy Wing; works from 1954-1997 at Art Resource Group, 20351 Irvine Ave. #C-1, Newport Beach. 949-640-1972 www.artresourcegroup.com Opening reception: Nov. 5, 3-7 p.m. Open House: Dec. 3, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.