This years California State Fair art show is like a genteel lady nicely dressed, well-mannered, unlikely to give offense. Its the most conservative show Ive seen in a long time. Theres very little abstraction, lots of traditional work, nothing thats terribly challenging.
One doesnt know if this is a reflection of the quality of works entered or the quality of the judging.
The paintings, judged by Crocker Associate Director and Chief Curator Scott Shields, are particularly stodgy. He gave the jurors award to Myrtle and Joe by Ed Chaney of Citrus Heights a painting based on an old photograph from the Depression of a couple who are kind of a down-and-out American Gothic. The photograph is simplified and generic, old in subject, new in the addition of jarring color.
Its not that there arent some exciting works in the show, among them At the Circus, a gutsy, Ensor-like painting of dogs on the run by Sandra J. Hoover of Sacramento. I also liked Sacramentan John Tarahteeffs moody, surreal Her Turn, a picture of a couple fishing, the woman holding a bob line floating in a pond; Sweet Dreams, a punchy painting of a woman doing laundry by Leslie DuPratt of Davis; Caleb, a quirky abstracted portrait by Edward Chance of Sacramento; and 3 Palms, 4 Cacti and Neon Cafe, both strong representational works by Michael Bolton of Carmel Valley.
The jurors award for other two-dimensional works, judged by Bee political cartoonist Jack Ohman, and the Best of Show award, selected by jurors across all categories, went to Emily Tumbleweed, a large-scale drawing of a wary young woman by Annie Murphy-Robinson of Carmichael. Its vintage Murphy-Robinson, a dark, film noir image of a vulnerable-yet-tough girl in a setting that is somehow menacing. Its a finely rendered work, the mysterious figure emerging out of the shadows on a velvety surface.
I also liked Delta Pond, an intricately woven mixed-media piece with metallic elements by Susan W. Brady of Davis; Canyon Suite, a work poised between realism and abstraction by Leanne Brook of Nevada City; and a large-scale collaboration by Timothy Swishuk and Magarita Chplinska of Roseville in the form of a bold montage of figures and faces.
The three-dimensional works were judged this year by Gerald Walburg, who gave the jurors award to Loxodonta daliensis, a mixed-media sculpture by Adon Valenziano of Santa Cruz. Its a large, elegant, surreal piece made with wood, metal and glass that resembles a pair of elephants, mother and child, perhaps from another planet. Its beautifully done, technically superb.
Other three-dimensional pieces that stand out are Crumb by Tony Natsoulas of Sacramento, a wildly wacky tribute to the radical cartoonist R. Crumb; Roadside Attraction a mixed-media piece that combines painting and sculpture, by James Finnegan of Woodacre; and Happy Fracking Day, a charming satire with miniature figures of Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown, by Laura Harling of El Dorado Hills.
The photography entries judged by Donald Satterlee are somewhat conventional, too. The jurors award went to a triptych at the center of which is a figure spinning so that light becomes a swirling painting in a subtle sepia landscape by Zachary Ruddell of San Rafael.
Other photographs that stand out include Bearded Lady by David Graham of Sacramento; Only in Berkeley, a photo of a parade in which a man dressed as lawn is followed by a horde of figures with lawn mowers by David Best of Lodi; Tomatoes in Basket, a Weston-like still life by Judy Yemma of Roseville; and Selfie, a charming image of four girls snapping their picture by Bill Chiechi of Sacramento.
Many of the digital works judged by Andrew Nicoletti are photographic, so it is hard sometimes to tell which category they belong to. The jurors award went to 24th St. 5 AM New Years Morning, a cinematic street scene done in an unusual three-dimensional process, so that you look into the scene as if you were wearing 3-D glasses.
In all, 181 works were selected from more than 1,300 entries this year, and $16,300 in State Fair cash prizes and $1,250 in cash and gift certificates from local businesses, groups and individuals were awarded.
Editors note: This story was changed to reflect the judging process for the Best of Show award.