Bill Ogden has often been labeled a “surf artist,” but judging by a current exhibition of his works at the Laguna College of Art and Design gallery, that oversimplifies an artist skilled in many mediums and genres.
Titled “The Art of Bill Ogden,” this first solo exhibition establishes him as a multi-faceted painter, draftsman, illustrator and designer whose imagination and interpretive talent appear boundless. Inspired by a wish to connect with nature, particularly the ocean and high desert, and an eye for the female figure, his paintings evoke the psychedelic art of the 1960s and beyond. But, one can also discern the intricate lines and delicately assertive coloration of Art Nouveau. Looking at some of the more outré perspectives, swirling lines and luminous colors, one might suspect the artist resorted to a little help from synthetic sources.
In fact, in 1970 Ogden drew posters to raise $100,000 towards the bail of LSD guru Timothy Leary, who was famously arrested in Laguna Beach.
Throughout the current exhibition, it’s evident that Ogden not only knows how to draw, but masters any medium, including oil paints, with remarkable skill. “Galactic California,” 2006 can be regarded as the tour de force among a genre that Ogden himself describes as “Ogdenesque.” The artist was out of the area and could not be reached for comment.
Ocean Avenue gallery director Andrea Harris-McGee organized the show, a curator a few decades removed from the psychedelic era. “I was coming in with a fresh perspective wanting to connect Bill with his fans and show his connection to a time in history that connected with youth, nature and spirituality,” she said.
Spurred on by LCAD president Jonathan Burke, she provides a summer treat for visitors, selecting works like “Women Who Surf,” a 2004 painting focused on a curvaceous chick emerging from a pool of water toting the requisite gear of a surfer. Her insouciant facial expression suggests that it took both moxie and fashion model grace to break into a notoriously male-dominated sport and lifestyle. Here, those in the know might also remember that Ogden drew for Surfer Magazine and worked for Jantzen Swimwear.
Harris-McGee selected works owned by five area collectors, including Spencer Croul, owner of Newport Beach-based Croul Publications and co-founder the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente.
“Over decades, I have recognized Bill’s work as it appeared on posters, in magazines and paintings chronicling his journey as a human being,” said Croul. “His style and imagination captured mine, and I commissioned him to paint my favorite beach at Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara. That began my relationship as patron of Bill’s art work,” he recalled.
The book published by Croul, “Ogden: The Visionary Art of Bill Odgen” accompanies the show. Laguna Beach author and journalist Craig Lockwood wrote text that includes commentary by Ogden’s contemporaries such as Jim Otto, owner of the Sound Spectrum music store, who sold and still sells Ogden’s psychedelic Art Nouveau calendars. “At one point, we were bringing them out quarterly, due to the high demand,” Otto told Lockwood.
Fellow Laguna artist Ken Auster, who Lockwood also interviewed, describes Ogden’s work as highly intellectual and meticulously planned. “There are no accidents, no serendipity…,” Auster remarked in print.
“I would describe his work as modern allegorical; it’s as good a description as anyone has every pinned on it. Bill puts his entire personality into his work habits. He’s true to who and what he is,” he said. “While many people are not all that interested in representational art, for those without a contemporary bias, he is a stellar resource.”
Former Laguna Art Museum executive director Bolton Colburn provided a different observation. “Forces larger than the artist came into play making this show happen,” Colburn said. “Bill played and still plays a big, but untold story regarding the regional history of art in Laguna from the 1960s forward. It is elucidating to compare his work to contemporary landscape painters, an arena in which Bill is a master.”
Viewers intent on purchasing an Ogden poster might want to check out Vintage Poster in Laguna Beach’s HIP district. “We have one Ogden that I don’t think Bill even has: ‘Palm Springs Desert Oasis. PS I love you,’ ” said proprietor Gary Gibson
Correction:The article “Retrospective Revels in Local Lore of a Certain Era,” misspells the artist’s name due to an editing error. He is Bill Ogden.