Rainwater Gallery exhibit focuses on Southern California punk rock scene

Maggie St. Thomas remembers her dad strapping 7-inch boots on her feet, putting a leather hat on her head and painting her lips red in an effort to make her look older when she was otherwise too young to get into 21-and-older music venues.

Back then, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, St. Thomas' father snuck her into the clubs, where she was exposed to the misfit world of punk rock and its musky, sweaty crowds.

She loved it.

Her punk rock pop and a trusty fake I.D. found in a telephone booth gave her access to a world of alternative people, adorned in studs and neon-colored hair, and fast, loud, rebellious rock 'n' roll, that most of her peers never got to see.

"I tried to tell my friends at school about these shows but couldn't describe just how awesome they were," said the Huntington Beach resident, now 36. "When I was 14, I started taking a film camera with me so I could show them what I saw."

St. Thomas has some of those photos, along with later work of bands like the Ramones, on display in "AnARTchy: The Art of Punk," an exhibition at the Rainwater Gallery, a relatively new downtown space at 526 Main St.

The show, which is on display through Nov. 22, features 10 artists whose work is largely influenced by the Southern California punk scene, where Huntington Beach played an instrumental role.

Agent Orange, Black Flag and T.S.O.L. were just some of the bands to play early gigs in Surf City, said event coordinator Ingrid McLeod, adding that a popular dance form from the 1970s and 1980s was called The "Huntington Beach Strut," a local take on slamdancing or moshing.

"The mosh pit could have very well started in Huntington Beach," she said.

Indeed, the Wikipedia entry on moshing credits the region as a likely candidate: "The first dance identifiable as moshing may have originated in Orange County, California, during the first wave of American hardcore."

All of this made punk an obvious choice for the Rainwater Gallery's first big themed exhibit since its May opening.

"We were trying to think of something that would be an attention-getting first major exhibit," McLeod said. "The art of punk had been an idea of mine for a while. Huntington Beach is pretty much the epicenter of punk rock in Orange County, and some people may say, California. It seemed like the obvious choice, if you wanted to appeal to your local demographic."

The art show features various media, like paintings, photography and woodwork inspired by punk bands and artists like Descendents, the Adicts, Social Distortion and NOFX.

Jack Grisham, front man of 1980s punk band T.S.O.L, said he thinks it's exciting to see the exhibition in his hometown.

"I think it's about time that the city recognize the significant change that the Orange County sound brought to the world," he said in a Facebook message before a planned talk at the gallery. "Punk revolutionized art, fashion, politics and awareness."

Patti McCandless, an H.B. mixed media artist who goes by the nickname "Black Hearts Rule," said "AnARTchy" has provided a way for like-minded people to come together.

McCandless, 47, said when she entered the punk scene as a teenager she didn't notice aggression or closed-mindedness, even though that's how some outsiders viewed the scene.

"We're all there supporting each other, and punk rock is just like this family," she said. "When we fall down in the pit, we pick each other back up. When I grew up in the scene, there were no cliques, as far as skinheads, punk rockers and skaters. Everybody did it together."

Alex Zablotsky, a silk screen printer and mandolin player in the punk-bluegrass (yes, the genre exists) band Old Man Markley, sees the scene as ever-changing, but not fading.

He noted the recent and appropriately name It's Not Dead festival in San Bernardino that brought tens of thousands of punks together for a day of music with iconic bands.

Zablotsky, who has silk screen posters on display in the exhibit, will play at Rainwater Gallery with Old Man Markley at 2 p.m. Sunday.

"The bands that I grew up with were more in the era of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when there was a skinhead and punk rock movement in California, stuff like Rancid," said the 37-year-old artist. "It was almost like its own brand of punk rock. I saw it die down a little after that, but, now, there's been this revival, and it's been amazing to see.

"I see the kids sporting the same T-shirts I used to wear when I was 22. I don't think punk rock will ever die. It just goes through metamorphoses and transitions."

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