There are three new exhibits at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. We think you’ll want to experience them after reading about them below.
- Charlton Fortune: The Colorful Spirit
California artist E. Charlton Fortune (1885–1969) came of age during a time when women began to challenge the status quo and redefine their expected roles in society. The exhibit of about 80 of her works, on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) now and through Jan. 7, 2018, showcases the work of this trailblazing female and one of California’s most significant artists. Fortune had a thriving career as a painter until the age of forty-three when she began a pioneering new vocation as a liturgical artist and as the leader of the Monterey Guild. The exhibition pairs the artist’s impressionist and modernist landscapes with her ecclesiastical paintings, furnishings, and other work produced for the Catholic Church.
Educated in Europe and the San Francisco Bay Area as well as at the Arts Students League in New York, Fortune’s paintings depicted the places she lived and traveled—the Monterey Peninsula, Scotland, England, and France. Though her paintings are frequently labeled impressionist, Fortune’s work moved beyond the style, a fact well recognized in her own time. Rather than focusing on nature for its own sake, she emphasized humanity’s impact on the land and was best known for colorful landscapes featuring architecture and elements of modern life. Often including active female figures, Fortune’s paintings were socially engaged. They were also strong in color—frequently rendered in primary or complementary hues—and rugged and gestural in execution, leading some reviewers and critics to assume she was a man. Many described her paintings as “masculine,” attributing their success to a perceived virility—then one of the most highly regarded qualities in art.
Starting in 1928, Fortune’s disenchantment with mass-produced ecclesiastical art led her to create designs of her own. She then founded the Monterey Guild, comprised of a group of skilled craftspeople, who, under her direction, created original, modern artworks and furnishings for churches. Her religious objects returned the focus to the liturgy and brought a sense of taste back to the Church.
- Hollywood in Havana: Five Decades of Cuban Posters Promoting U.S. Films
This smaller exhibit, also on view until Jan. 7, 2018, assembles approximately 40 Cuban posters publicizing Hollywood films from the 1960s to 2009. Astonishing in their design, stylistic diversity, and artistic skill, these bold and vibrant posters helped create visual literacy among the Cuban population in the decades following the Cuban Revolution.
Produced by the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) or the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, the posters were part of an initiative of the revolutionary government to develop cultural awareness and consciousness after Fidel Castro and the guerrilla forces overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgenico Batista in 1959. Today, the posters stand independent of the films they represent. Their magnetism and innovative use of design elements continue to spark conversation and understanding about the role of film, culture, art, and politics in Cuba as well as California.
Screenprints created for Cuban audiences to promote iconic American films, such as Modern Times, Singin’ in the Rain, Cabaret, Schindler’s List, and Silence of the Lambs, are in striking contrast to the vast majority of Hollywood posters for the same films, which formulaically feature faces of the movies’ stars. Instead, the imagery depicted often relates to an iconic element or moment in the film, such the umbrella in Singin’ in the Rain. ICAIC posters employ creativity and free expression as well as a variety of art styles, including Art Nouveau, abstraction, Pop, and Op, many of which mirror the American counter-culture of the times.
“Based on a shared love of films, Hollywood in Havana identifies commonalities between Cubans and Californians,” says Carol A. Wells, curator. “The exhibition creates a dialogue not only about these visually stunning and easily approachable posters, but also regarding longstanding stereotypes about Cuba and its government.”
During a time when momentous changes are underway for Cuban-American relations, Hollywood in Havana adds to the discourse between the two countries. Presenting Cuban film art in the film capital of the world encourages viewers to consider the power of these posters as well as the printed media and graphic designs that permeate their daily lives. The exhibition demonstrates how art, entertainment, and politics intersect and integrate to influence and reflect cross-cultural communication.
- LA Redux: Reduction Linocuts by Dave Lefner
For the last 25 years, native Angeleno and one of the country’s foremost reduction linocut artists Dave Lefner (b. 1969) has explored and recorded the historic and vintage characteristics of Los Angeles, from the sleek lines of mid-century American automobiles, to roadside signage for motels and mom-and-pop diners, to dilapidated neon theater marquees. A self-professed “old soul,” Lefner preserves the icons of America’s Golden Age in the exacting, time-consuming, and relatively lost art of reduction linocuts. The artist’s prints depict a nostalgia for the glamour of old Los Angeles with both a playfulness and masterful precision that belies their complex creation. This exhibition explores Lefner’s prints and practice, presenting a vivid picture of Los Angeles’s past and present as well as the ingenuity and creative processes the city continues to inspire.
While studying art at California State University, Northridge, and experimenting with different media, Lefner discovered the reduction linocut printmaking technique. This painstaking process, greatly innovated by Pablo Picasso in the 1950s, requires the skills of an artisan and the vision and forethought of an artist. The combination of art and craft was particularly appealing to Lefner, who sought an art form that would challenge him as an artist and felt authentic amidst the disarray and cynicism that continued to engulf the postmodern art world in the 1990s.
Armed with his newfound form of expression, Lefner focused on subject. Inspired by Picasso, Stuart Davis’s abstracted paintings of New York City, LA architecture and car culture, typefaces and fonts, and the Ferus Gallery Pop artists, the urban landscape of Los Angeles became his principal muse. The artist’s linocuts quickly began to reflect the sunny West Coast optimism of the post-war period. “My work is nostalgic, but I’m also very much a realist,” says Lefner. “I love to imagine the history of this city, all shiny and new, with nighttime neon glowing bright. But most of the time, I’m drawn into the daylight details, when peeling paint, busted tubing, and lengthening shadows are cast like haunting specters of the past.”
Very few artists today work in reduction linocuts, which are sometimes called “suicide prints” because of the potential for irreversible mistakes made during the carving and printmaking process. Working from his own photographs for reference, Lefner creates a charcoal drawing that is conversely transferred to a single block of linoleum. He then carves the block in stages, each stage creating a layer of color and part of the print’s composition. A single, irreproducible edition takes weeks or even months to complete, usually totaling no more than seven prints. Despite the fastidious nature of reduction linocuts, Lefner remains unfazed and faithful to the city and craft he loves.
On view in the PMCA’s Project Room, the exhibition celebrates the artist’s significance as part of the Los Angeles and PMCA community. Not only does Lefner live and work at The Brewery, the world’s largest artist colony, he also regularly leads printmaking workshops at the PMCA and is one of the honorees at the Museum’s upcoming ¡Fiesta Cubana! gala (fall 2017). Featuring approximately 10 prints, LA Redux, like the artist’s retro prints, revives the bygone architecture, signage, and automobiles of Los Angeles while shining a neon spotlight on the artist’s dedication to craft and the perpetuation of culture.
The Pasadena Museum of California Art is located at 490 East Union St., in Pasadena 91101. The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday noon to 5 pm. Admission is $7 general. First Friday of the month (noon to 5 pm) admission is free. Third Thursday of the month (5 pm to 8 pm) admission is free.
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