Final Swing | Repeat: Andre Woodward | Jorg Dubin | Jeffrey Gillette | Lawrence Gipe
Coastline College Art Gallery, Newport Beach, CA
Through March 11, 2023
Written by Liz Goldner
What if our world was about to expire? What if the seemingly endless political, sociological, racial, ethnic and class conflicts here were about to engulf us? And what if our planet with its ongoing fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, displaced people and animals made life nearly unlivable? Coastline College Art Gallery Curator David Michael Lee addresses these issues in this dramatically engaging exhibition.
Technically a pendulum swings a little less every time it changes direction, he explains. But when a human pushes that pendulum, that’s when things begin to fail. And with so many problems in our country and worldwide, we may be going beyond sustainability for our lives and for our planet.
Two years ago, at the height of the pandemic, during the aftermath of the 2020 election, and when there was so much civil unrest, the ebb and flow of our world was severely disrupted, he adds. Yet he reasoned that within so much pessimism, there is optimism.
As Lee formalized his ideas, he wrote a statement for “Final Swing” that reads in part: “Pushing the limits further can result in a failure of the whole system. How long until we have reached the horizon, that edge of possible? Eventually, our seat will collapse, and we have to start over from the beginning.”
The artist in this show whose work best illustrates this concept is Andre Woodward. The OC native creates art pieces that combine plants, including bonsais, with unusual containers such as cement cubes and speakers, the latter playing ambient street noise to replicate urban environmental sounds. The artist’s plants, receiving artificial light and regular watering, including spraying water directly onto the concrete, thrive in these containers.
Woodward’s installations, transcending the formal and traditional definitions of art, prove that life can bloom and prosper in the most abhorrent conditions — which is the thesis of “Final Swing.” “There is romance in our idea of nature and our need to control and dictate it in our own terms,” he explains. “Through our attempts to control and create, we are developing complex systems that promote the convergence of many things, natural and man-made. We set up situations with these creations that evolve into their own unique existence.”
Jorg Dubin often challenges the artistic status quo, especially in his Laguna Beach hometown where he has railed against the local Arts Commission. Two of his large oil paintings in this show, rejected by that commission, address Black Lives Matter. “The Orange Stand” depicts a white police officer threatening a black protestor. Alongside the officer, there are several cops in riot gear, a tank behind them and smoke filling the air. His “Black and Blue” painting, even more menacing, illustrates police officers with faces so distorted that they appear like characters in a horror movie, as they terrorize a black man.
Dubin’s “Terra Muerta” illustrates a beautiful, naked woman inhabiting a parched, barren landscape with a large fire blazing in the background. The not-so-subtle message is that severe climate change is encroaching our planet. Another of his pieces is the wall sculpture, “Playboy Club,” featuring the club’s logo framing a Micky Mouse face. The conjunction of these two disparate images from the Playboy Club and Disney works, as both are derived from corporations, displaying images that are almost parts of our collective unconscious. Continuing this theme, Dubin’s two airplanes, made of sheet metal, feature painted corporate logos, suggesting that corporations might support our military financially, thus saving taxpayers money.
Jeff Gillette is known in the OC, in SoCal and in the U.K. for his subversive Disneyland paintings, several in this exhibition. As Gillette explains, living in the shadow of Disneyland, he began playing around with cartoon images, sometimes besmirching them with tattered clothes and features. He added these cartoon characters, especially Mickeys and Minnies, to his landscapes of third world slums. Soon after, he began re-creating Disney buildings, including the iconic Castle with dystopian aspects.
His “Disneyland Sign ‘Dump’ #9,” “Disneyland Manila,” “Slumscape Mickey” and other pieces are in sync with “Final Swing,” as he enhances his urban slums with lovable cartoon characters. “This tends to be my trademark,” he says, “illustrating a narrative in a postmodern framework, reflecting an existential dread, tempered with a healthy sense of humor.” Lee adds, “Gillette’s work blends 20th-century cartoon illustration and traditional European oil painting techniques while highlighting the global economic disparities caused by 21st-century capitalism.”
Lawrence Gipe focuses on themes of power, propaganda, abandonment and destruction. His “Russian Drone Paintings” series in this exhibition address the Industrial Revolution, which he refers to as, “the historical origin of all our ecological peril.” These large paintings are appropriated from screenshots of drone footage, posted by the now-censored RT news service, previously run by the Russian government.
Gipe’s work in this show includes “Mir Diamond Mine, Siberia,” illustrating the world’s largest diamond mine, now abandoned. His “Abandoned Hospital, Moscow” is an aerial view of an equally disturbing site. “Ferris Wheel at Pripyat” illustrates an amusement park in Ukraine that was abandoned as the Chernobyl disaster, a few kilometers away, occurred in advance of its opening. His frighteningly dramatic “Gates of Hell, Darvaza Crater, Turkmenistan” depicts the Darvaza gas crater, a burning natural gas field that collapsed into a cavern.
Gipe’s images of abandoned sites, due to overuse, neglect, radioactivity and other traumatic events, represent humanity’s interminable intrusion into nature. Yet these sites have become inspirations and source material for his magnificent paintings, while several sites are also tourist attractions.
Much of the work in this exhibition depicts the devastation that humankind inflicts on our planet and its people. Yet the paintings, sculptures and installations are so aesthetically striking that they affirm our relentless desire to never give up in the face of adversity.
Coastline College Art Gallery, 1515 Monrovia Avenue Newport Beach, CA 92663
A truly excellent review of some tough artwork. Thanks for bringing this important exhibit to our attention!