Thursday, June 11, 2009


When it comes to interesting exhibits, Orange County has been on a roll (sorry, L.A.).

Back in 2007, I caught what might have been the best exhibit of a cartoonist's originals that I have ever seen. It was the BASIL WOLVERTON exhibit at the Grand Central Art Center in the Artist's Village section of Santa Ana (next door to Gypsy Den: highly recommended!) They accompanied the exhibit of Glenn Bray's collection of Wolverton's original pen/ink pages and thumbnails into one hell of a catalogue, the book THE ORIGINAL ART OF BASIL WOLVERTON. Anyway, for any gal or guy doing humor comics, this was one crackin' show to witness a master's process. As a longtime fan of Wolverton's POWERHOUSE PEPPER, I was diggin' it!

Shortly after, a comprehensive show of the comics, posters and paintings of RICK GRIFFIN appeared at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach. I don't even have a passing interest in Griffin's hippie-dip stuff, but I still appreciated seeing his intricately rendered originals in person and learning about his life and sad end, not to mention photos of him living in the region.

There was also a well-reviewed OCMA exhibit called BIRTH OF THE COOL which I didn't get to see, but read several reviews of and it looked like another winner.

Well, as if all that were not enough, here comes another hit: the 63 works of artist ROGER KUNTZ at the Laguna Art Museum, which I caught on the very last day of the exhibit (May 24). Even though the exhibit began last March, perhaps because of the unfortunate turmoil going on at the LA Times, they didn't review the Kuntz show until very late in the game. So I didn't even know about the exhibit until May.

I'm so glad I caught this show. It came at a great time, as I had just finished working on articles related to the L.A.-centric writer JOHN FANTE and I had an appetite for regional work. I had never heard of Kuntz or his paintings before the article, and I was intrigued enough by what ran in the Times to go seek out this exhibit of his amazing Southern California-centric paintings, which ostensibly presents depictions of scenes we might take for granted---the way the lights and shadows fall on a San Diego Freeway sign or on a freeway overpass, or a sliver of beach scene peeking out behind a condo complex----

-----but he's also interested in the geometric forms and abstraction which results. If that sounds boring and academic, it doesn't when you see the work, and unfortunately, I couldn't find any JPEGS online of his woman and bathtub series, or some of his playful surrealism which involves pencils, cats and the moon.

Boy, was Kuntz's art a local affair. In fact, he lived and painted in Laguna Beach! My girlfriend and I had parked on Holly Street nearby the museum to see the exhibit. As it turns out, he painted from a Holly Street house with a second floor view of the beach, and as we returned to our car, we are looking up the block trying to figure out which of the three or four buildings was depicted from the inside in several of his paintings, which owed a big debt to Edward Hopper's art, but were masterful nevertheless.

Roger Kuntz died at the age of 49 in the mid-1970s. He killed himself as he was dying of cancer and a lot of things in his personal and professional life were going south.

But Kuntz is an artist who should definitely have a higher profile, and if an exhibit of his work comes to your town, go see it.

Thanks, Orange County! Keep the fun exhibits coming.....

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