This year’s California State Fair art show is like a genteel lady – nicely dressed, well-mannered, unlikely to give offense. It’s the most conservative show I’ve seen in a long time. There’s very little abstraction, lots of traditional work, nothing that’s terribly challenging.
One doesn’t 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 juror’s 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.
It’s not that there aren’t 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 Tarahteeff’s 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.
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The juror’s 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. It’s vintage Murphy-Robinson, a dark, film noir image of a vulnerable-yet-tough girl in a setting that is somehow menacing. It’s 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 juror’s award to “Loxodonta daliensis,” a mixed-media sculpture by Adon Valenziano of Santa Cruz. It’s a large, elegant, surreal piece made with wood, metal and glass that resembles a pair of elephants, mother and child, perhaps from another planet. It’s 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 juror’s 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 juror’s 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.
Editor’s note: This story was changed to reflect the judging process for the Best of Show award.