Arts & Theater

Art review: Bright, strong work highlights State Fair show

The two-dimensional painting Juror’s Award went to Richard Wynne of Lake Elsinore for“Armageddon Rag.”
The two-dimensional painting Juror’s Award went to Richard Wynne of Lake Elsinore for“Armageddon Rag.” California State Fair

If last year’s California State Fair show of fine art was overly sedate, this year’s is wild and sometimes wacky. It’s full of bright colors and strong figurative imagery.

Walking into the exhibit hall, you see Sacramentan Alexander Montaño’s color photo of one of the fair’s ubiquitous corn dog stands and “Mr. Shell,” a surreal, Archimboldo-like painting of a face made up of sea shells by Susan McBaine of San Francisco.

Bracketed by the two is the centerpiece of the show, a surprisingly sleek sentinel-like figure made up of cast-off industrial elements by Dave Lane of Sacramento. It’s the simplest Dave Lane I’ve seen, perhaps because the perennial State Fair exhibitor is working on a major installation at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

Though it didn’t win an award this year, it’s one of the strongest three-dimensional pieces in a show that’s weak in sculpture. Two-dimensional works – especially paintings – are vibrant, on the whole, and varied.

Juror Chris Daubert, who did the final judging after Natalie Nelson was called away by a family emergency, gave the Best of Show Award and the Juror’s Award for 2-D work other than painting to a large mixed-media piece by Bryan Valenzuela of Sacramento. Titled “Bittersweet Sanctuary,” the labor-intensive work pictures a pair of legs bleeding blue paint that forms a pool of water below.

Behind the legs, which are made up of tiny words, so small you cannot read them, is an almost-subliminal image of a fish hovering on a gold-and-white background with legible if disjointed text.

Suggesting a religious image, the scene depicted is a kind of ecological resurrection in which fish are saved by a watery miracle.

It’s clearly the strongest work in the show, though there are several strong entries in the 2-D painting category, which was judged by art historian Elaine O’Brien. She gave the Juror’s Award for painting to “Armageddon Rag,” an expressionistic figurative painting that reminds one of works by James Ensor. It’s by Richard Wynne of Lake Elsinore.

Among the other strong paintings in the show are a dark and subtle painting of an abandoned storage facility by Chelsea Gilmore of Modesto; a tasty abstraction by Sara Post of Davis; a bold and painterly image of a kitchen table by Laura Carpenter of Davis; and “Under the Sun,” a nicely done portrait of a U.S. Army soldier by Richard Yang of Elk Grove.

Among the 3-D works, judged by Arthur Gonzales, is Fairfield artist Lisa Jetonne’s “Pickle,” a wry and oddly beautiful assemblage of jars of salt-brined beach detritus that fools you into thinking they are preserved fruits and vegetables. Other sculptures that stand out are Sacramentan Casey O’Connor’s “Repurposed,” a rocketlike recycled piece adorned with found objects; “Still Life With Uneasy Chair,” an interior made up of objects formed from nails by Lynn Dau of Los Altos; and “Winged Victory of Santa Cruz,” a humorous contemporary take on the famous ancient Greek sculpture by Geoffrey Nelson of Santa Cruz.

Kurt Edward Fishback did a creditable job of judging photographic entries this year, giving the Juror’s Award to a surreal night scene in San Francisco’s Presidio by Tony Williams of San Carlos. There are many strong photos in the show, including “Miner’s Ravine,” an archetypal landscape image, by Alan Barnard of Roseville, and Stockton artist Michael Randolph’s mystical “Journey.”

Andrew Nicoletti gave the Juror’s Award for Digital Art to “Infected River” by Logan Williams of Brentwood for his realistically realized imaginary landscape of what might be a surreal rain forest.

Selected from more than 1,200 entries this year were 180 works by 170 artists; $16,500 was awarded in prize money.

In addition to the competitive show, a selection of works by the late Earl Boley, a frequent fair exhibitor, are on view. Still lifes, landscapes and figures selected by Jian Wang make up a special section of the show.

2015 California State Fair Fine Art Show

  • Where: Cal Expo, 1600 Exposittion Blvd., Sacramento
  • When: Through July 26. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Sundays
  • Cost: $8-$12 admission to the fair; promotional days include discounts on some admissions; parking $5-$10
  • Information:; 916-263-FAIR (3247).