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Artists share colorful stories behind works in Black and White show at Laguna Art Museum 

By THERESA KEEGAN 

This story is a part of our Arts section. Visit www.stunewslaguna.com/arts for more arts stories as well as our arts calendars.

Southern California is so often associated with bright, colorful settings, it is almost a shock to see a current exhibit that celebrates work by Southern California artists that features work in only black and white. 

Black and White, the show at the Laguna Art Museum, features a variety of media in these two bold colors, is a riveting display of how art can transcend expectations. 

This collection of 30 pieces of contemporary art from the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation is a refreshing reminder not just of the power of these two contrasting colors, but also how this combination can contrast with what so many consider the requisite colorful SoCal experience. 

Amid the bold black and white artwork on display at the Steele Gallery, there is a recurring inspiration these artists credit to nature, especially the ocean, the power of light and shadow and the beauty that is found in their unique Southern California environments. 

Artists share Black and White

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Courtesy of Laguna Art Museum

A crowd gathered to hear a conversation with curator Billie Milam Weisman, but laryngitis led to a change of plans. Instead, selected artists spoke about their work. 

When the exhibit opened earlier this month, the museum scheduled an evening in conversation with Billie Milam Weisman, director of the Foundation, curator of the show and wife of the former Frederick Weisman. Her knowledge and support of the area’s artists would certainly be insightful. However, the evening took a last-minute twist as Weisman had severe laryngitis. Instead, some of the participating artists spoke and in the museum’s intimate venue, revealed their inspirations, processes and the SoCal area that binds them together. 

They also shared their gratitude to the Weismans’ foresight in collecting contemporary art from the region and the Foundation’s commitment to making it publicly accessible. 

“It’s great to be in great company,” said artist Andy Moses, pointing to the surrounding pieces by artists both living and deceased. He then went on to share his story about moving back to California in the early 2000s and looking at the ocean while driving near Venice.

“There was something about the reflection of light on the water,” he said. “The quality of light, the quality of motion. I knew I wanted to capture that.” Within a year he had created Beyond the Cirrostratus, a round pearlescent acrylic that shimmers and changes depending on light and perspective. His Tale of the Dragon also abstractly reflects nature by using circular motion and paint that chemically interacts to create organic forms. 

Artists share Andy Moses

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Courtesy of Laguna Art Museum

Artist Andy Moses talked about his art pieces in the show, but also that of his father, Ed Moses, who also has pieces in the exhibition. Both were inspired by Southern California’s openness.

Moses went on to talk about Southern California’s influence on his father, Ed Moses, who also has two pieces in the show. The opportunity to paint outdoors unleashed a freedom within Ed. “He just broke free from the prior constraints,” said his son, who told of his father’s freedom found painting outdoors on a huge driveway. “In three or four years, he made an abstract painting that stops you in your tracks.” The controlled brushwork in Helix - 1 is a manifestation of his painted grids, while Racko No. 2 was created by pouring acrylic onto a soaked canvas and manipulating it with a squeegee, creating both a grid and undulating marks. 

Artists share Billie and artist

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Courtesy of Laguna Art Museum

Artist Ned Evans (L) talks with curator Billie Milam Weisman during the public talk earlier this month 

A love of ocean – and surfing – was shared 

Artist Ned Evans also credited nature and the ocean for his inspiration. Although he is best known for his surfing-inspired bright, colorful, fluid paintings, when he addressed the museum audience, he also recalled a darker time in the ocean’s not so distant history. “We’d come in from surfing and there’d be oil on your feet and your surfboard was covered in tar.” This ocean-loving artist, in Black Sand, has deconstructed and put back together a totally black surfboard, one of just a few sculptural pieces in the exhibit. “It’s a statement and it’s intentional,” he said of the deep blackness of the piece. Meanwhile, his other piece in the show, Curico, reflects the simplicity of the shadows one sees when walking under a pier. “The light shimmers, it’s bouncing and still there, but a little subdued,” explained Evans. 

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Artist Blue McRight shared a riveting take of collecting plastic birds and trying to figure out how to use them in an art collection. “I wanted to transform their surface, but I didn’t want to paint them,” she said. When her foot was injured and wrapped in a black, sticky gauze, McRight found her transformational material. She unraveled the gauze into long threads and draped it over the bird and, in a bizarre twist, it ultimately became symbolic for her SoCal home. 

“In Venice the crows are so dominant they’re a black stain (because) they’re making the songbirds disappear.”

Adapting outside objects to reflect nature

Artist Michael Dee told the funny story of driving to numerous grocery stores to purchase plastic party cups which he then transformed into meteorites, crystals and then ultimately settling on creating “stars” from the repurposed cups. His show Star (Small Clear) is on display. 

“There’s a subtlety of reflection and shadow,” Dee said, praising the versatility of the sculptures. “I liked the immediacy. The stars can have projected colored lights (that) project onto a wall as stained glass, or they can be photographed on white or black seamless…(They can) do subtle color shifts. I liked the immediacy.” 

Artists share crowd shot

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Courtesy of Laguna Art Museum

Artist John Millei also shared his experiences with the crowd at Laguna Art Museum

David Nico, who has the only piece in the show with color (a muted green), discussed how Los Angeles has always been supportive of artists and how his own art has evolved into contemporary art that reflects current times.

Robert Standish told of his artistic evolution from photo realism to abstract expressionism where flow and randomness could be embraced, as evidenced in his piece Falls

“I was living on PCH and going to the beach every day,” he said. “I was closely observing nature, the elements and the metaphysical. When the piece was done I’d go back into it and rework it, let go in the moment and then rework it.” 

Artist Kelly Berg concluded the informative evening by discussing Strato, which was inspired by a trip to Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. “It reflects this nature we can’t control,” she said. “The ambiguity of a giant cloud almost looks like an atomic bomb.” 

Artists share Kelly Berg

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Courtesy of Laguna Art Museum

In addition to having her work shown in the “Black and White” exhibition, artist Kelly Berg has been selected as the museum’s 2022 Art & Nature artist

Berg, who has been selected as Laguna Art Museum’s 2022 Art & Nature artist, is inspired by the power of natural disasters, whether they are fires, earthquakes or volcanoes. “This fits into the whole power of nature and even what’s going on in the world right now,” she said. Plans for the fall program are still being finalized, but Berg expects to tap into the geology of Laguna Beach for the project. 

Black and White Contemporary Art from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation will be on display at the Laguna Art Museum through October 9, 2022. For more information, click here

This story is a part of our Arts section. Visit www.stunewslaguna.com/arts for more arts stories as well as our arts calendars.