In a bright, open room in the Expo Center at the State Fair, there’s a slightly grainy photograph of a young girl, gazing into the camera lens near the entrance.
A cursory glance down at the white placard next to the art piece reveals the name of the artist and the work’s title, and then, a shocker – the word ‘drawing’. The picture isn’t a photograph at all. It’s a drawing, done in excruciating detail.
This is Annie Murphy-Robinson’s “Origin,” the piece that won Best in Show at this year’s Fine Art Exhibition at the Cal State Fair. And while her work is an exercise in meticulous realism, the fine art exhibition features an eclectic set of art pieces from California artists – from abstract, broad-brush oil paintings to bright, vivid photographs.
“We have a really broad, diverse collection this year,” said Emily Reed, the fine arts exhibit coordinator. “There’s something for everybody.”
All 181 fine art pieces on display are in one of five categories: paintings, non-painted drawings, 3-D artworks, digital artwork, and photography. The pieces are handpicked from more than 1,000 photo submissions by a jury. Then, after the 181 were chosen, the jury chose which pieces would receive the final awards – a Juror’s Award in each category, 20 Awards of Excellence, 100 Awards of Merit, and one overall Best in Show.
“It’s always our goal to get to see the best of the year,” Reed said. “We like to give a wide variety of what that medium has to offer.”
Winners can earn from $50 to $700 and receive a State Fair Rosette, as well as receive other special prizes from sponsors and donors in specific categories. And artists have the option of placing their artwork for sale during the fair, a portion of which is given to the Friends of the California State Fair Scholarship Fund.
The variety is evident in the exhibition itself. When standing in front of one piece, taking two steps in a different direction can offer a completely different style and feel of art. To the left of the entrance, Brad Morlock’s dark, black and white drawing of California redwoods in “Sanctuary” is next to Jonathan Lowes’ “Negai,” a golden-colored oil-painting of a girl watching Japanese lanterns. Near the back, brightly painted hair-dryer chair – Terry Chun’s “By Appointment Only” – sits opposite a row of calm black and white photographs.
According to Reed, the exhibit, which runs through Sunday, gives viewers the opportunity to interact with the art world in ways they might not have otherwise. And it gives California artists a chance to showcase their work, and get their message across.
And some pieces of art are explicit in their messages – in Mustafa Shaheen’s painting “Emigrant,” the Statue of Liberty is barely visible behind a chain-link fence.
“I didn’t want any hesitation in it’s directness.” he said.
Shaheen hopes his painting and its message can inspire empathy – “If one person gets something out of it, I feel like it’s done it’s job,” he said.
But not only do visitors to the exhibition get to look at art, they can make their own.
In the back of the exhibition, local sculptor Chris Thompson handed out small blocks of clay to passersby, inviting them to sculpt something. He was already surrounded by a small, neat pile of drying clay creations – a little boy who had been working cross-legged on the floor handed Thompson a small clay turtle. Gingerly, the sculptor added it to the pile.
The exhibition is one of the highlights of the State Fair for many Californians. Christina Richardson, who was looking at art on Wednesday, has been coming to the State Fair for over 20 years, just for the fine art.
“When I come here, I’m inspired.” she said. “It’s so meaningful.”
When asked her favorite painting, she pointed, without hesitation, to “Enigma of Freedom,” by Hadi Aghaee. The painting depicts a Muslim woman split down the middle, torn between a Western-looking world and the Middle East. The placard underneath the painting reads, in part: “A woman is painfully frustrated when her freedom of dress choice is attacked for opposite reasons in opposite sides of the world.”
The painting’s statement resonated with Richardson. “I’m going to walk away and remember that,” she said.