Press / Orange County Register

Orange County Register - Arts and Entertainment Section
'Get Your Red Hots at the Orange County Fair'
exhibition review by Richard Chang | July 31st, 2010

Amid the hustle and bustle of food vendors, mediocre music and money-sucking rides and games at the OC Fair, one structure continues to stand as a testament to local culture and fine art.

The Visual Arts building, which relocated last year to the southeast edge of the Main Mall, is probably the one place in Southern California that offers an exposure of art to the widest spectrum of everyday people. The museums, as great as they are, simply don't reach the same audiences.

There's the L.A. County Fair, but everyone who's familiar with both fairs knows that the OC Fair's art exhibits are newer and better than the displays offered by our neighbor to the north. Sorry, guys.

This year's OC Fair exhibits are divided into photography, fine art and featured artists, with woodworking, sculpture and other three-dimensional displays outside in the Exhibit Promenade or in another building. The result is a show that seems smaller and more intimate.

The photos and paintings are sub-divided into professional and amateur submissions. Photos seem to dominate this year's exhibits, with noticeably less fine art on display. Indeed, fine art submissions and accepted pieces were down across the board, with 15 percent fewer amateur submissions, 42 percent fewer accepted amateur pieces, 29 percent fewer professional submissions and 37 percent fewer accepted professional works.

Photos saw increases in amateur, professional and young adult categories, both in submissions and accepted works.

One of the reasons for this difference seems to be a change in the way the fair has accepted work. In the old days, folks used to be able to mail in or deliver slides or photos. Now, it's a digital, computer-based process, in which entrants must e-mail their submissions. While it is the 21st century and that seems to be a perfectly accessible and streamlined process, it's apparent that some artists who may not be technologically savvy are being left out.


In any case, let's get to the art. There's still plenty of it on display, again with an emphasis on photography. Even among fine-art submissions, there seems to be more realism and representational work on view, and less abstraction than in previous years.

Among the photographs, you have your usual array of animals, children, flowers, landscapes, seascapes and buildings. In the positive column, wedding photos have been almost completely weeded out.

While the images are divided between amateur and professional, I couldn't distinguish the professional ones as being remarkably better than the amateur works. That's a good thing, I imagine.

I generally disagreed with the judges' top picks for division winners and best overall. Having been a judge in the past, I know from personal experience that the judging process is highly subjective and painstaking. With thousands of submissions to go through, they do have a difficult job to do.

In no particular order, my favorite photos are "Heaven & Earth" by James Tonini of Lake Forest; "Gosh" by Daniel Pham of Mission Viejo; "Be Still" by Bill Largent of Orange; "Striated Rock" by Robert Plotz of Placentia; "St. Peter's" by Mark Paone of Orange; "Play it Again" by Annette Globits of Fountain Valley; "Study in Red" by Mike McNulty of Huntington Beach; "The Traveler" by Lauren Simmons of Lake Forest; and two coastal scenes by Phil Knoeller of Orange.

This year, Moira Hahn and Douglas McCulloh are the featured guest artists. Hahn's colorful work is fantastic. She combines Japanese woodblock print techniques with playful animals and humorous Western references.

McCulloh's photographic work, too, is striking, but I have to admit, I didn't understand much of his obscure wall text. The references are to war, but the sources aren't always noted, and thus, one is left wondering what several of the images have to do with the passages.

Among the fine artists, a few works stand out: "Parking Structure" by Keith Renner of Buena Park; "Boneyard Duck" by Crystal Maes of Yorba Linda; and "Spero's" by Michael Ward of Costa Mesa. All are quite realistic.

Gary Sohl of Fountain Valley is an excellent painter. His oils "Cathedral Rock" and "Laguna Beach" are rich with impasto and palpable love for the terrain.

And now, here are the judges' picks for the winners of the fair. In the fine art categories, Matt Olson of Foothill Ranch won best of show among amateurs for his computer illustration, "Faceless Joe Penny," and Marcia Weatherholt-Bernhardt of Newport Coast won best of show among professionals for her oil painting, "Portrait of a Young Dancer." Lynn Peavy of San Clemente was the division winner in sculpture among amateurs, and Keith Renner of Buena Park was the division winner in painting among amateurs.

Scott Mcalister of Huntington Beach was the division winner in sculpture among professionals, and Heather Lara of Dove Canyon was the division winner in graphics among professionals. Theme awards went to Alyssa Beasley of Torrance (amateur) and Henry Godines of Westminster (professional).

In the photography categories, Hector Campos of Irvine won best of show among amateurs for "Dream," and Jeff Schuster of Costa Mesa won best of show among professionals for "Sr. Mariachi."

Matthew Brtis of Costa Mesa was the division winner in black-and-white prints among amateurs; Russell Stockus of Laguna Woods was the division winner in amateur color prints; and Claudia Piras of Lakewood was the division winner in non-traditional prints among professionals. Theme awards went to Debbie Lefever of Anaheim (amateur) and Gary Gionet of Garden Grove (professional).

Best-of-show winners in woodworking were Stan Graves of Laguna Woods (apprentice) and David Blackburn of Ventura (master). Professional photographers and all woodworkers must live in California, but do not have to reside in Orange County. All other entrants must live, work or go to school in Orange County.


Other visual attractions worth checking out at the fair are the eclectic display of quilts, curated by Barbara Thompson, who's assistant program coordinator for visual arts at the fair; and art made from food, on view just outside the Visual Arts building.

Chef Bruno Albouze has crafted an OC Fair Ferris wheel, an Eiffel Tower, a cartoon book and a bald eagle, all sculpted from bread. He has also made a pair of bunnies from pretzels.

Through the run of the fair, food sculptor Jim Victor is providing live demonstrations of sculpting figures with butter, cheese and chocolate.

And in case that's not enough for you, there's the Ice Museum, a new attraction this year that features famous sculptures and icons chiseled from blocks of ice. Inside an 18-degree freezer, you can see an Easter Island statue, King Tut, a Chinese dragon, Auguste Rodin's "Thinker," even Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."

The drawback? You may have to wait for 15-30 minutes in the hot sun beforehand, as this has become a popular attraction. But you're guaranteed a nice, refreshing chill once you get inside.

"Blue Moon" a 2006 work by Moira Hahn, a featured artist at this year's OC Fair.