I’ve been reviewing the California State Fair Fine Art Exhibition, a competition open to all artists in the state, for over 40 years, but I remember seeing the show as far back as the 1950s when it was divided into two sections, one conservative and one “modern.”
By the time I started writing about the show in the mid-1970s, that arbitrary division had been eliminated and there was just one show, which strove to show the best contemporary works being done in the state. Sometimes it came close; at others it failed miserably. In recent years, it has seesawed back and forth between conservative and more innovative sensibilities.
In 2014, it was an exhibit of generally well-executed, rather sedate works that added up to a very stodgy show. Last year, there were lots of wild and wacky works that made for a show that was both surprising and fun. This year, we’re back to conservative again.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a number of worthwhile and well-done works in the show. It’s just that not very many of them are terribly exciting or break much new ground. Perhaps that’s because so many of today’s graduate students at colleges and universities are doing experimental, conceptual or performance-oriented works that don’t fit nicely into many of the competition’s categories: 2D Brushworks (oil, acrylic, watercolor, mixed media and plein-air paintings); 2D Non-Painting Media (drawings, prints, collage and non-painting mixed media); 3D Artworks (various forms of sculpture and ceramics); Digital Artworks (illustration, painting, manipulated photos, video, film and animation); and Photographic Artworks (traditional, alternative and digital processes).
Brushworks juror Catherine Turril Lupi, who is head of the art department at California State University, Sacramento, gave the juror’s award to “Earring Thief,” a large oil portrait of a woman by Mustafa Shaheen of Sacramento. The over-life-size image of an attractive woman, wearing dangling green earrings and a quizzical expression, is smoothly painted with no visible brushstrokes and is pleasing if awfully old-fashioned.
I liked better Sacramento artist Yeubin Gong’s large-scale, gestural watercolor, “Tai Chi #7;” San Francisco artist Emilee Yawn’s wildly intricate mixed media painting that maps a watercolor with ink titled “Intersections;” Sacramentan Dennis Wilson’s “Out for a Stroll,” a hauntingly surreal oil of a man on an unlovely beach staring out beyond the canvas. Other noteworthy paintings include “Yellow and Gray, an abstract acrylic by Pam Avery of Sacramento; “Dolly V and the Fossils,” an inventive and painterly mixed media work by Judy Knott of Galt; and “Familiar Harmony,” a quirky oil of a rural family scene by Jonathan Lowe of Elk Grove.
Non-painting two-dimensional works were judged by poet, textile artist, and professor emeritus at UC Davis, D.R. Wagner, who gave the juror’s award to “Sonoma,” an exquisite, tonally rich, aquatint etching by Peter Baczek of Oakland that, while seemingly conservative, is so masterfully done it transcends that appellation.
Other outstanding works in that category include “Rocket Ride,” a witty and innovative mixed media triptych in acrylic with collaged elements by Chloe Fonda of Oakdale; “Woman,” a luxuriously rich, visionary collage reminiscent of works by Kim Scott by Carol M. Lingenfelter of Oceanside; and “Soliloquy,” a subtle abstraction done as a clayprint, which is a non-traditional monotype using potter’s clay and pure pigment, hand-pulled on fabric, by Martha Castillo of Palo Alto.
David Ogle, emeritus professor at West Valley College, judged three-dimensional works, giving the juror’s award to “Eve,” a heat-formed acrylic sculpture of an iconic woman, rising out of the mud and holding the apple that would lead to her expulsion from the Garden of Eden, by Geoffrey Nelson of Santa Cruz, which also won the best of show award. It’s a glowing, slightly kitschy figure, based on a painting of a sinuous Eve by the German painter Lucas Cranach, the Elder, done in 1528, that might have stepped out of an animated Disney movie.
I liked better “The Serial Series,” a sophisticated and ironic wall piece made up of found plates altered with decals and luster, by Ianna Frisby of Sacramento; Sacramento ceramic sculptor Tony Natsoulas’ over-the-top, satiric “Portrait of Basil Wolverton,” who was a Mad Magazine cartoonist; and a hilarious, mixed media sculpture of Vladimir Putin and the dissident girl group Pussy Riot by El Dorado Hills artist Laura Harling, whose work never fails to entertain. Other strong works in this category include “Crocodile,” a recycled piece made of tires and steel by Austin Kramer of Woodland; “Life in Rabbit Years,” a winsome eucalyptus and willow bark sculpture of a leaping rabbit by Harley Hauder of Wilton; and “Winged Wave,” an imaginative ceramic work with wood and mussel shell by Starr Davis of Saratoga.
Digital Artworks juror Don Button, a professor in the graphic communication department at Sacramento City College, gave the juror’s award to “Mesquite Dune’s Composite #11,” a complex composition of a fictive landscape made of multiple digital photographs by Tony Williams of San Carlos. Other strong works include “Break Bones,” an edgy, anime influenced digital print on wood by Nooligan Saulque of West Sacramento, and “A Lonely Heart in the Crowd,” a quirky and compelling video that explores love, loss and mental illness by Mollie Kellogg of Spring Valley.
Photography, once again the strongest section of the show, was judged by Sharmon Goff, professor emeritus of the Department of Design’s photography program at CSU, Sacramento. She gave the juror’s award to “People Make Glasgow,” a surprising cityscape overlaid with hand-written text and whimsical drawings, by Rudy Calpo of Sacramento. There are too many strong works in this category to list them all, but you won’t want to miss the haunting, minimalist black and white photo “The Chase: Wolves, Yellowstone,” by Lisa Aikenhead of Diamond Springs or the lush, ethnographically fascinating color photo “Omo People Shelter from the Rain,” by Anna Skacel of Sacramento.
Officials selected 175 works from 1,250 entries in this year’s competition and the fair awarded $16,500 in prize money. In addition, several special awards in varying amounts were made by area businesses and arts organizations.
California State Fair Fine Art Competition Exhibition
Expo Center Building 5. Cal-Expo, 1600 Expo Blvd.
State Fair information: Through July 24. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Sunday. $12-$8, free for children 4 and under. Parking $10, $5 for motorcycles, cash only. For details, 916-263-3000 or http://www.castatefair.org