Jim DeFrance and Eric Johnson at Orange Coast College

Jim DeFrance: A Retrospective and Helix2: Sculptures by Eric Johnson

through April 7
Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion, Orange Coast College

By Liz Goldner
Two concurrent exhibitions are as much about the materials used and the art-making methods engaged in as they are about the completed pieces. While perusing these two intriguing shows, the viewer may be drawn to examine the individual artworks’ finishes, shapes, intricately crafted juxtapositions, and even their interiors.

Both artists, painter Jim DeFrance, a long-time L.A. resident who passed away in 2014, and sculptor Eric Johnson, alive and well in San Pedro, are veterans of the Light & Space or Finish Fetish movements, prevalent in the Southland during the 1960s and 70s. Both artists use a variety of materials in their work, including woods, metals and materials from the aerospace and automotive industries, such as resins, and both manipulate their completed works in unusual ways. Combining the art of these two artists, displayed in adjoining galleries on this college campus, encourages dialogue about relationships of the various pieces, and even about the artists.

This first solo Jim DeFrance retrospective in decades reveals his penchant for creating shaped paintings. Much of his work in fact evokes the shaped hybrid art pieces—known as “hyperbolic paraboloids”—of artist Tony DeLap.  DeFrance’s dozens of art pieces displayed here, created from the 1960s to 2012, often referred to as “slot” paintings, are constructed with rectangles and other geometric forms, along with abstract shapes. Several pieces are meticulously crafted and tightly fit together, and include laminated veneers and wood bark covered in paint.

Jim DeFrance, Rainbow, Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion; Photo courtesy of the gallery
Jim DeFrance, Rainbow, Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion; Photo courtesy of the gallery

“DeFrance explored texture, bright colors and irregular shapes,” explains Tom Dowling, co-curator of the show, and former Orange Coast College art history instructor. “This exhibit has a few of his pieces over the decades working through these ideas.” (Trevor Norris, former Doyle Arts Pavilion director, also co-curated the show.)

Examples of the artist’s work are the abstract shaped, multi-colored Rainbow and blue Mask 3, each created with several narrow interlocking pieces of wood. The similarly made Tango and Formosus are intriguing constructions, with each individual component painted a different color. Euphaedra Zampa is composed of rectangular shapes, each painted with muted primary colors, imparting a slightly psychedelic look. Other shaped paintings evoke passageways and doorways. An example, a functional artwork in the form of a credenza, includes multiple panels of fitted, painted pieces. A few pieces, such as Untitled in blue, and May 14th in orange, include carefully drawn lines as counterpoints to the monochromatic colors. And acrylic paintings, including Dazzler, reflect the 1960s Op Art movement.

Complementing DeFrance’s pieces are Eric Johnson’s half dozen sculptures, constructed with corkscrew shapes. These pieces are inspired by the 1884 painting, Portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent, of an elegant woman, twisting her torso as she looks behind her.

Johnson’s varied sized corkscrew pieces, one more than sixteen feet long, with magical titles as Madame Espace (2000) and Watson’s Wand (2005), also appear to pay homage to artist Tony DeLap, who Johnson studied with at UC Irvine. Indeed, DeLap often names his paintings after magic tricks or magicians, as magic is his lifelong hobby.

Eric Johnson, Untitled Column, Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion; Photo courtesy of the gallery
Eric Johnson, Untitled Column, Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion; Photo courtesy of the gallery

Johnson’s wood-based sculptures also display influences of the Finish Fetish movement, as all are coated with polyester resin, resulting in slick surfaces. Tyler Stallings, director of the Doyle Arts Pavilion, explains, “Johnson introduced a new method for creating the works—the use of a three-axis gimbal. It is a mechanism that has allowed him to spin a polyester resin, biomorphic-shaped mold so that the sides of it are coated evenly, in all directions, as if they were made in zero-G, when he pours in the colored resins, which solidify into a jewel-like appearance around the wood lattices.” After the resin has hardened, the artist polishes the pieces until the surfaces glow.

While the work of DeFrance and Johnson evoke SoCal Light and Space influences and methods, the pieces are entirely original. They also display concentrated workmanship, based on assiduously thought out designs, configurations and surfaces.

DeFrance was known to eschew the commercial art world, while delving into the intense process of art-making, an activity that brought him inner peace. Johnson, while more gregarious, is equally introspective with his work, imbuing his sculptures with art historical, scientific and even cosmological aspects. He wrote about his pieces in this show: “I felt I wanted to address physically, on a larger scale, how DNA appeared to me while trying to visualize the vastness of the universe and the laws of physics.”

Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion
Merrimac Way, Building 180, Costa Mesa, CA


The exhibition, Tony DeLap: A Retrospective, with approximately eighty of the artist’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings, is at Laguna Art Museum through May 28, 2018.


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