Review: 25th Annual Juried Show at LM/AG

The Lancaster Museum and Art Gallery is currently running its 25th Annual Juried Arts Show, featuring roughly 80 artists in media ranging from photography and digital media to oil painting and colored pencil.

The works demonstrate a wide range of talents and artistic visions and, for the most part, the current LM/AG show is one of impressive quality. Subject matter varies widely but the show’s content is anchored by works relating to the landscape of the Antelope Valley.

A number of paintings and photographs featured the Antelope Valley’s symbolic moniker, the Joshua tree. The most notable of these works were the two large paintings of Kris Holladay. 

Holladay took one of the top three prizes at this years show for a piece depicting a night scene with a Joshua tree expressively rendered in staccato curves against a moon-lit sky. Holladay’s works are nicely complimented in the show by the other large paintings submitted by Edwin Vasquez and Nick Shake.

Nick Shake was awarded the first prize in the 25th Annual Juried Arts show for an oil painting titled “Prepared”. That painting shows a young man nearly waist-deep in dark water, surrounded by shadows hued with deep, dark burgundies and umbers. He is weighed down and bent under the burden of a large pack of goods with a meager lantern hanging at his side.

Behind the vividly colored young man is a very dark, again shadowy figure holding a slim rod. One might interpret this second figure, walking into the background, to be the unburdened soul of the young man, ready to do something as simple, as pure, as unburdened as going fishing. The young man, in stark contrast to this simplicity, wears chagrin instead of a smile and feels overloaded, bloated, and overwhelmed but the tasks of the world for which he is “prepared”.

The implied narrative of “Prepared” remains understated and allows for the viewer to complete the story and to fill in the blanks, a method of implication that makes for an engaging viewing experience.

Shake also has a large water color work in the Juried Show called “Size 13”. It is a departure for Shake from some of the work he has recently shown at the LM/AG (see 4<40) in that this work appears as collage of color and subject with a mainly pastel palette. “Size 13” uses painted squares to create a disrupted set of borders within the larger frame of the painting cunningly resembling collage assembly.

The image used in the painting is of a man sitting in front of a closet full of shoe boxes. Shake’s sub-frames work with the shoe boxes to create a sense that these boxed in spaces may stand for at failed attempt at isolation. The consumer that believes himself to be THE AGENT able to make “isolated decisions” is seen here in a state of over-lap.

One painted square invades the next and we see the figure in the painting as anything but a man of agency, making decisions which ultimately cannot remain isolated from one another nor from the man himself sitting in the foreground, a unified clash of the square-painted ideas of himself as a consumer and as a person.

Continuing on the subject of large works: A large work by Edwin Vasquez presented in the LM/AG show is an iconic mixed media piece: the simplified face of a man made out of old lottery tickets and candy bar wrappers in collage pasted over a bright, cool teal.

The work is loud and, purposefully, very American. It shows an outsized and irrational view of the self made up of dashed hopes and commercial goods. It is the picture of a malnourished soul. But it is not unhappy.

The photography in this year’s Juried Show is also striking and impressive. In the photography, more than in the paintings and drawings, we see a density of interest in the high desert. However, where the desert paintings tend toward landscape and contemporary issues of today’s culture and its issues, the photographs tend to focus on an era that is quickly becoming history.

Old cars, broken down houses and barns, the dead stillness of winter – these are the subjects of a culture and a mindset looking at what once was, what no longer grows, like looking at an old lottery ticket that actually once was a winner, but now, well, the money is all spent.

With 80 artists and over one hundred works on display it is impossible to comment and assess the show in detail. Some of the most interesting works were the mixed media works that utilized a combination of hand-drawing and hand-painting along side digital media.

My personal favorite works in the show were two landscape paintings of Beech trees near water. The artist, Richard Gallego, put his personal stamp on the show and on the landscapes with an incredible use of light. Both paintings delicately construct an expressive, almost impressionistic vision of autumn scenes that subtly yet vibrantly set the deep blue of the mountain stream against the orange of the Beech leaves and the bright tawny trunks of the trees.

Once again, the Lancaster Museum and Art Gallery has shown its dedication to bring quality art to the local public. Where in the past, the shows have been largely of local interest for several reasons, this year’s show takes a step beyond local interest.

The artists are local. That is true.

A healthy dose of local subject matter relating to the Antelope Valley is also a part of this show.

What makes this show different then? What takes it that extra step into general interest?

Firstly it must be noted that the LM/AG’s layout has become that of an art museum under director Nicholas West. West has re-envisioned the space so that what we have now is a legitimate museum. The results of the changed layout are tangible.

Secondly and finally, the quality of the art presented in the 25th Annual Juried Arts Show makes for a solid marriage of quality, professionalism, artistic merit, though-provoking statement. Too many facets for one marriage? You’d be surprised by how successfully these come together in the current Juried Show at the LM/AG.