Exhibit showcases contemporary O.C. expressionist works

It isn’t every day that Orange County’s young 20-something art patrons crowd inside a steel storage container that could just as easily be carrying farming equipment on a cross-country freight train. But that was the scene Saturday night at The ARTery Gallery in Costa Mesa’s self-described “anti-mall” complex, The LAB.

Downtown · For the exhibit, artist John Bunney rendered the energy of West Coast city skylines, including Seattle (above) and Vancouver. - Photos courtesy of Kyle del Rosario

The sight of art enthusiasts shuffling in and out of cramped industrial quarters should’ve been enough to raise a few eyebrows — if not for the fact that many of the exhibit visitors’ brows were pretty high to begin with — but the bulk of those in attendance at the opening reception for “Modern Day Expressionism” had been to previous shows at the peculiar gallery.

The new exhibition, a multimedia group exhibit showcasing the work of primarily local artists, was curated by intern-turned-gallery-assistant Roxana Vosough.

When recruiting artists to show at her exhibit, which sits in the heart of Costa Mesa’s South On Bristol Entertainment, Culture and Arts (SoBeCa) District, Vosough sent out an open call via e-mail. She also directly contacted a number of her coworkers at the Orange County Museum of Art in hopes of channeling the artistic sensibilities she believes are unique to the region.

“A specific genre of people come in here,” Vosough said of the novelty gallery. “It’s made by people who live in Orange County.”

Vosough, who studied art history as an undergraduate at UC Irvine, sought to localize the global trend of expressionism with her exhibit while also refining the meaning of contemporary art.

The decision to feature only art created within the window of the last decade, in addition to the on-site presence of a handful of the artists whose work was on display, contributed to a sense of immediacy and local significance that’s often absent from gallery shows.

Photography, acrylic painting, ink and watercolors as well as a piece that appeared to feature sand and crushed shells glued to a canvas, were all on display at the multimedia exhibit, which was arranged to benefit UNICEF.

Forty percent of the gross sales of all the art works sold will be donated to the child welfare-oriented organization, but some guests said the exhibit’s association with the charity didn’t figure very heavily into their decision to visit.

Chris and Kendra Bradley’s plans for the night didn’t originally involve international philanthropy, for instance, but that’s precisely what the couple ended up doing when they purchased John Bunney’s “Vancouver, Green.”

Chris Bradley, curator of a previous exhibit at The ARTery called “Board Stiff” — which highlighted surfers and skateboarders who also make art — is always eager to expose new people to the gallery and its mission.

“We came to support The ARTery,” Bradley said. “But [the show’s UNICEF affiliation] doesn’t stop us.”

Some of the artists whose work was on display were decidedly more enthusiastic about the show’s charitable component.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Tiffani Myers, an abstract photographer who had five pieces on display. “Art for a cause, basically.”

The bulk of the works showcased were abstractions of familiar subjects.

Albert Leinenweber found inspiration in a parking lot, for instance. Leinenweber, a graphic design student and graduate of CSU Long Beach, photographed puddles on an asphalt parking lot, which he later digitally manipulated to enhance the images’ color and make them less recognizable.

Photographer Reza Ardalan’s digital close-up of some of the mechanical components of an old tractor he saw on the side of the road was easily one of the most visually striking pieces of the exhibit. Ardalan said he pulled onto the shoulder of the road immediately after he saw how the discarded tractor’s features were enhanced by the natural light.

“The sun was just perfect — texture everywhere,” Ardalan said. He believes that an attentive artist can find his subject in the most unlikely places. “A junkyard can produce more beauty than a garden sometimes.”

Bunney, a security guard at OCMA who was one of the artists directly recruited by Vosaugh, showed five works at the gallery’s opening reception, two of which — “Seattle, Orange” and “Vancouver, Green” — are part of an ambitious larger series he’s currently working on.

“I’m doing the West Coast entirely,” Bunney said. “I’m trying to project the kind of energy that I feel within the city.”

Bunney’s geometric abstractions of the Pacific coastal cities’ familiar skylines were among some of the most expensive works for sale at the gallery. His depiction of San Francisco is complete, and Los Angeles and San Diego pieces are on the horizon.

With “Modern Day Expressionism,” Vosough appeared to succeed in what she set out to do. Her exhibit captured the perspectives of Orange Country artists and gave a number of unique variations on a theme. But Vosough entered the experiment with a sort of mental carte blanche by not expecting much in the way of cohesiveness.

“I know people’s tastes are really eclectic, but I think our generation’s tastes are struck by bright colors and unique perspectives, especially in photography,” Vosough said.

To that end, the show was a success. Vivid colors were in anything but short supply and unexpected angles abounded, especially in the photographic works that were shown.

To what extent the exhibit got a handle on the hard-to-pin-down genre of expressionism is a different story, but The ARTery’s newest exhibit was — if nothing else — a success in bringing together O.C. art lovers for a night of community and appreciation.