Everyone knows that Carpinteria is an amazing haven for beachcombing, beer, and burgers at The Spot. What they may not know is that the place now harbors and nurtures a lively community of contemporary artists, several of whom are currently being featured in the show South Coast Sampler: Eight Carpinteria Artists at the Arts Fund Gallery. While the shared zip code may be all that links these artists on paper, their work is connected by a certain laid-back confidence and a nuanced quirkiness that make them, like their hometown, distinctive.
But while these chilled-out and self-assured pieces were brought together by an accident of geography, making a through line from artist to artist is both pointless and limiting to the art itself. The fun of this show is in seeing how much difference can be crammed into one room. The diversity of theme and subject, medium and message, become a visual conversation that feels neither exclusive nor overly intellectual — just downright fascinating. It’s like eavesdropping on the group of artists as they gossip over a pint of beer at Island Brew.
Take Stuart Carey’s larger-than-real-life rhythmic depiction of a figure. In “It’s Just a Gender Difference,” Carey is clearly commenting on the current transgender culture war. The gigantic size, too, makes the figure into an overarching presence, nearly eclipsing many of the subtler pieces in the room. This is fitting. Gender, like the piece, is the forever elephant in the room. All around us, we are confronted by what makes us man or woman, but rarely do we have the chance to engage these myriad issues in a funny, daring, interesting way.
If Carey’s work is a Mardi Gras parade, then Julie B. Montgomery’s is a quiet walk alone on the beach. Her abstract paintings are reminiscent of moving water, horizon lines, and the Carpinteria summer diffused by fog. Beneath exquisite layers of green, blue, and ochre are dissipated pieces of text that add a layer of mystery and mystique to the images. Dynamic in their movement but somber in their tone, the paintings beg for further investigation and invite long staring.
Equally intriguing is Sean Anderson’s engagement of some sort of neo-nativist Shangri-la. In a series of beach-hut works, many created with fluorescent auto enamel, Anderson depicts primeval forts or houses with lovingly soft brushstrokes that evoke nostalgia or memory. It seems so fitting that an artist from a beach town in Southern California in the 21st century made this work. Modern Carpinteria is also fading into a long-forgotten memory of itself, made concrete every year by the floods of tourists remembering the place always as it was before.
As for Sampler in its entirety, there is so much to look at and not enough space in print to explore it all: Garrett Speirs’s minimalist scrawlings that evoke order and playfulness simultaneously; Pamela Hill Enticknap’s politically charged oil on paperwork, “Hanging by a Thread”; Patricia Houghton Clarke’s exterior photographs of abandoned houses, focused on overgrown furniture, doorways, and porticos; Chris Baker’s flattened primary-colored interior, smeared and alive with color; and, of course, Arturo Tello’s stunning painting “The Tao of the Cow,” a wildly perfect image of a cow sunning in a green field.
Like Carpinteria, the art exhibit, and Tello’s painting, there are many surprises in this exhibit, despite the familiarity of some of these artists and their close proximity to Santa Barbara. The works, curated by Nancy Gifford, will start a conversation and may inspire a trip to see the South County artists in their native habitat.