Karen Campagna was strolling around Laguna Beach a couple of years ago looking to commission a painting for her dining room. Instead, she signed up for an art class. She experimented with watercolors, acrylics, crackle paste and paper collage, but nothing caught her fancy.
Then one day a neighbor who was remodeling tossed out a bunch of broken jewelry and hardware. Using the debris, Campagna constructed her first relief sculpture. Now seven of her assemblages are on display at the Mission Viejo Library through Tuesday.
“All of my paintings are fashioned with repurposed items that would otherwise wind up in a dump,” Campagna said.
Her first assemblage, “A California Pearl,” was inspired by Victorian homes in the Bay Area and was created with chopsticks, keys, ballpoint pen springs, sand and costume jewelry. In a fashion-themed scene, an old salad tong transformed into the back of a woman’s leg and a cupcake liner became a hat.
Faces have been her biggest challenge, with bits of history symbolized in the items she used in construction. Albert Einstein’s portrait “Moral Conflict” includes a German coin, which symbolizes his Nobel Prize. A treble clef and musical notes represent his love of classical music. Einstein’s father wanted him to be an engineer, so Campagna added electrical parts.
Resembling Jeff Bridges’ character in “The Big Lebowski,” “Dude” is a commentary on the Vietnam War. Campagna’s Marine is a once-proud veteran fallen on hard times, represented by beer tabs and bottle openers. Plastic toy soldiers and guns, body parts and binoculars are scattered throughout his face and unruly locks.
Each assemblage takes about 300 to 400 hours to make, Campagna said, using 12 types of glue. Everything is painted white with the exception of a scene of New York at night. Circuit boards sprayed black form a skyline of high-rises. Clouds are made from the stuffing inside of hair doughnuts, and an old rhinestone belt stands in for the West Side Highway.
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