If last year's California State Fair fine art exhibit could have been called "The Death of Painting," this year's marks its rebirth.
Painting juror Brenda Louie did a terrific job of assembling strong paintings in a variety of styles, and her choice for the Juror's Award is outstanding.
"I Am Your Chief," a collaboration between Patricia Mills and Michael Rowden de Portola of Fair Oaks, is big, bold and imaginative. It manages to be both visceral and spiritual at the same time. Referencing a little-known event in the Indian wars, it is full of dark, contending forces expressed purely through paint. The whole is scattered with lively petroglyph forms and held together with dotted lines that lead the viewer in and out of the painting.
For a collaboration it's remarkably seamless.
From an affectionate portrait of K Street by Sacramentan Steve Memering to playful and dashing abstractions by Goia Fonda, who teaches at Sacramento City College, the paintings command your attention and reward extended looking.
Among the highlights are "Stages," a strong painting of women at three stages of life, by Gaylynn Ribeira of Castro Valley; "At Your Fingertips," a straightforward, painterly oil of drinking fountains by Judy Knott of Elk Grove; "Illinois," a large photographically rendered oil of women hanging out laundry by Rose Ponting of Redding; and "Lagoon With Moon," a soft, texturally rich landscape by Earl Boley of Carmichael.
The rest of the judges also did a good job this year. Clay Jensen gave the Juror's Award in sculpture and the Best of Show Award to a playful and prepossessing work made of a culvert pipe and plastic water bottles that mimics a giant leak in the wall of Building 7 where the art show is installed. The artist, Kurt Barton of Meadow Vista, gives us a witty piece in which plastic turns into water.
Other sculptures that caught my eye are "Milo's Birthday," a giant mixed- media sculpture ringed with thrift store globes of the world by Dave Lane of Sacramento; "Self-Portrait With Mother," a surreal assemblage of a figure incorporating found objects by James Mullen of Grass Valley; "Moai of One," a large Corten steel sculpture of an abstract shape pierced with two holes, by Thomas Ramey of Sacramento; and a magical figure made of nails by Lynn Dau of Los Altos.
Erik Friedman gave the Juror's Award for drawing to Annie Murphy-Robinson of Carmichael for her provocative rendering of a young teen in underwear with a cigarette, a disturbing image with a noir edge. Other drawings that stood out are a subtle rectangle of intricate markings by Hei Fok of Sacramento and a large, graphically rich image of women with birds on their heads by Mariam Pakbaz of Vacaville.
Digital art other than photography is a surprisingly strong category this year. Juror Rachel Clarke gave the top award to a fantastical digital drawing of a Renaissance woman slumbering as gargoyles and demons arise from her hair by Sarma Karsiere of Sacramento. There are also entertaining videos on view by Brad Stanley-Owens of Vacaville, Skyler Brown of Sacramento, and Mikko Lautamo of Fair Oaks.
Photography juror Drew Johnson gave the Juror's Award in that category to "Letter From My Daughter," a poignant image of a Korean woman reading a letter that is in sharper focus than the figure, by Gail Parris of Sacramento. I also liked an honest portrait of a woman with a worn face by Kim Kohler of Elk Grove, a series of four portraits made with a handmade wet-plate collodion method by Ivan Sohrakoff of Woodland, and "She Dreamed She Was a Cat" by Dawn Blanchfield of Lincoln, a macabre image of children at play that reminded me of works by Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
In all the jurors selected 180 works from 1,554 entries this year and put together one of the strongest State Fair shows in recent memory.
CALIFORNIA STATE FAIR FINE ART SHOW
Where: Building 7, Expo Center, Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays- Sundays, through July 28
Cost: Free with admission to the fair: $12 general, $10 ages 62-plus; $8 children 5-12; free for children 4 and under. Parking $10.