By Richard Chang, Special to the Independent
Books lead to movies all the time, but it’s rare when a book inspires an art exhibition.
That appears to be the case with the newest group show at Coastline Art Gallery in Newport Beach. “Orange Sunshine and the Mystic Artists, 1967-1970,” on display July 27-Sept. 26 with an opening reception on Saturday, July 25, takes direct inspiration from OC Weekly writer Nicholas Schou’s book, “Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love and Acid to the World,” published in 2010.
Bolton Colburn, former director at Laguna Art Museum, was reading Schou’s book, and came up with the idea of focusing on the art and artists featured at Mystic Arts World – a gallery, bookstore and head shop that existed on 670 S. Coast Highway, in Laguna Beach, between 1967 and 1970.
“Nick’s book opened my eyes to this whole thing that happened in Laguna Beach,” Colburn said, referring to the “hippie mafia” and drug-smuggling ring that called itself the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, based in a group of houses on Woodland Drive. Timothy Leary was one of the brotherhood’s main figureheads.
In addition to its illegal exploits, the brotherhood also founded Mystic Arts World as a business that supported artists and sold clothing, art, beads, health food, juice, incense, books and hookahs.
“I thought there was a visual side to the story,” Colburn said. “This was a chance to take a look at something that nobody I know had ever taken a look at before.”
Colburn contacted Dion Wright, who was director and curator of the gallery program at Mystic Arts World. Wright, a longtime artist at the Sawdust Art Festival and indeed, one of its founders, agreed to collaborate with Colburn, exhuming artworks, posters, documents and ephemera from the era.
“It was a visionary element of artists in the Laguna Beach area. It was a local phenomenon with local people,” said Wright, now 77. He makes his permanent home in Flagstaff, Ariz., though he can be seen during the summer at his booth at the Sawdust.
“There was a tangential interface with psychedelics, but (Mystic Arts World) was not a hub of illegal activity that the conservative element wanted to portray,” Wright said. “It was an art gallery and an emporium, reflecting aspects of what was perceived as a healthy lifestyle. We had good art and metaphysical books.”
“Orange Sunshine and the Mystic Artists” features about 120 objects by 37 artists,
including Isaac Abrams, Tom Blackwell, Jane Callender, Paul Darrow, Louis Delsarte, Italo d’Andrea, Ray Friesz, Louis Goodman, George Herms, Robert “Jocko” Johnson, Julie Kahn, Steve Kensrue, Terry Lamb, Robert McCarron, Beth Pewther, Noble Richardson, Larry Rink, David Rosen, Mary Riker Segal, Gayl Stenlund, Gerd Stern, Gordon Wagner, Andy Wing, Wright and Bob Young.
The exhibit features paintings, sculptures, drawings, posters and lots of ephemera – photos, postcards, fliers, magazines, exhibit announcements – from the gallery and period. Highlights include large paintings by Abrams, Darrow and Pewther, and a reproduction of Wright’s influential “Taxonomic Mandala” (1965-66).
“Many of the artists that showed there were artists of the psychedelic movement at the time, as well as the art culture in Laguna Beach and in Southern California,” Colburn said. “They never really get attention or acclaim. They never really get to be deified in the way Los Angeles artists were deified, to go on and have big art galleries represent their work.”
Colburn and the organizers of this show aimed to be inclusive, so it covers a variety of different types of work, not all of it psychedelic.
Part of the challenge of organizing this exhibit was to figure out who was still alive and who was dead. After Mystic Arts burned down in June 1970, the artists dispersed across the country.
“Most of these artists kind of go off,” Colburn said, “leaving Laguna and doing something else, or continuing to be an artist elsewhere, or are missing in action.” He says he tracked down about two-thirds of the artists Wright featured in the old gallery.
Today there’s a Mystic Arts co-op gallery at 664 S. Coast Highway, literally next door to where Mystic Arts World used to be. It features a number of Sawdust artists, and a few who had connections to the old Arts World. However, the current Mystic Arts’ focus is on the present and future, not the crazy, psychedelic past.
For Coastline Community College, “Orange Sunshine” is an opportunity to reach out to the larger community, and do something addressing the arts in Laguna Beach again. Last summer, the gallery highlighted selections from the permanent collection at the Festival of Arts.
“We wanted to do something community based, trying to get more people to the college, and having them want to come back and support us,” said David Michael Lee, gallery director/curator and an assistant professor at Coastline.
In addition to the opening reception Saturday, the gallery will host a panel discussion at 6 p.m. July 28, featuring moderator Wright; artist and activist Beth Leeds; artist and craftsman Joe Miller; Carol Griggs Randall, “godmother” of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and widow of its founder John Griggs; Michael Randall, the original general manager of Mystic Arts World; artist, activist and Oracle publisher Star Shields; and poet and Beat Generation philosopher Gerd Stern.
On Sept. 2 at noon, Nick Schou, author of “Orange Sunshine,” the text that inspired the show, will talk about his book.
Where: Coastline Art Gallery, 1515 Monrovia Ave., Newport Beach
When: July 27-Sept. 26
Hours: Noon-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon-8 p.m. Thursdays (closed Aug. 29)
Information: 714-241-6213 or coastline.edu/community/art-gallery