As the Festival of Arts celebrates its 85th year, it is no longer an aging beauty, but a head-turning stunner thanks to $10.5 million worth of architectural surgery. Now, the redesigned and rebuilt festival grounds serve as the summer home of 140 artists, including many longtime favorites and some newcomers eliciting wows among the passing multitudes.
Among the latter are a photographer and two painters, who are certain to establish followings during the coming seasons.
Mastering the Short Subject
Among the festival’s 18 photographers, Jeff Scott Rovner veers drastically from accustomed views of Yosemite and other natural wonders to concentrate on young performers of Le Petit Cirque, a Los Angeles-based troupe modeled on the adult Cirque du Soleil.
After his now 16-year-old daughter Haley, a hoop dancer, was inducted into the circus, Rovner photographed the troupe’s child aerialists, stilt walkers and contortionists’ rehearsals for two years, and the results are stunning. Le Petit Cirque performs for worldwide audiences, which included the Dalai Lama, with proceeds earmarked for charities.
The Laguna Beach resident is a lawyer and a managing director for O’Melveny & Myers LLP. He professes a lifelong interest in photography that did not come to full fruition until the 2001 birth of Haley. “I had some photo skills, but was keenly aware of their limitations,” he recalled. As Haley grew, so did Rovner’s determination to master minutiae of digital cameras while being aesthetically inspired by the street photography of Henry Cartier-Bresson, the portraiture of Yousef Karsh and diverse work of Irving Penn and members of the Magnum Photo Agency, to name a few.
Haley meanwhile took up intricacies of the hula hoop, getting a teaching certificate in the specialty at age 11 and later being inducted into the Petit Cirque as a hoop dancer.
Rovner’s passion for what he calls “environmental portraiture,” conceptualizing his subject’s stories and revealing their character by photographing them in their environment, has begun to meld with another passion, one for magic. He plans to resume work on a book about celebrities such as Steve Allen and Muhammad Ali, who also share a fascination with the subject. “There are quite a few celebrities who practiced magic tricks as children and who were later influenced by their mastery of the unseen.”
Rovner says his festival experience so far surpasses his expectations. “I thrive under the camaraderie of the artists and staff and the satisfaction of welcoming people interested in my art. I’ve already seen people I haven’t seen in 30 years, old friends and even fellow law students,” he said.
Petit Cirque images are also bound into a 2016 book “The Values of Le Petit Cirque” available at his booth. (132)
A New Life Emerges on Canvas
Pastels rank among the more difficult mediums, requiring a mastery and control not quite as crucial in oils or acrylics. Lesli Bonanni has mastered that control in her minimalist, somewhat abstracted yet dramatic pastel landscape paintings. “Sunset Surprise,” for example, veers off harsh reds and oranges, melding soft blues, mauves, purples and hints of pink red. “Sojourn Mist” is its tonal opposite. With blues, turquoises and greens dominant, it hints at the mysteries of a rising day. Overall, Bonanni’s work intrigues through its simplicity and straightforward technique. She applies pigment to paper but spreads it with her hands to create subtleties of shape and color.
“I will Wait for You,” with its lights at the end of a long road, might be a slight cliche to some but her technique voids such perception.
The San Clemente resident started out as an interior designer and in the process of picking art for others became inspired to teach herself how to make her own. “I started painting on a whim, at the suggestion of a friend,” she said. Such openness and a desire to find a different world view led her to take drawing classes at the College of Southern Nevada where she also fell in love with painting. “I took every possible art course and experimented,” she said. “For me each painting has a life of its own that I try to let come through.”
Wielding a book of artists’ quotes, she recites her favorite: “Art is the Highest Form of Hope.” (Booth 131)
A Language Where Translation is Unnecessary
When Pil Ho Lee emigrated with his family from Seoul, South Korea, to Los Angeles at age 9, he discovered that he had a unique skill to overcome the language barrier. The son of an artist, he could draw and so communicate with teachers and students.
With his talents nurtured in secondary school, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Art at Cal State University Long Beach. That led to work as a graphic designer and art director for Canon, Sony, Disney, Honda and Yamaha.
When a friend challenged him to devote some time to painting, he jumped on it. Lee cites as his mentor Gary Bradley, whom he describes as more of a visionary than an artist, who guided him on a path of meaningful art. “I became serious through him,” said Lee. He lives in Orange with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, whom he already recognizes as a budding artist.
Lee still works freelance as a graphic designer, appreciative of increased time to devote to painting. “I study other painters whose work I admire and wonder how I can get there, but I also focus on where I am,” he said. His cityscapes show a fusion of abstraction and representation and a noteworthy sense of color and composition. Some pieces are somewhat reminiscent of cityscapes by the late Ken Auster. (“Twilight Reflections” “Street Rush”) (Booth 52.)