The most common response to Asad Faulwell's latest series comes with a question.
It goes something like this: You're neither Algerian nor a woman, so why did you make these?
The 35 pieces in "Les Femmes D'Alger" form a modern-day commentary on heavily stylized works created by Delacroix in the 1800s and Picasso in the 1950s. They are the Orange County resident's canvas, acrylic paint and paper shrines to female combatants from the Algerian people's struggle to overthrow the French government.
Faulwell's curiosity was piqued seven years ago when he discovered Gillo Pontecorvo's 1967 film "The Battle of Algiers." He was most disturbed by the stories of young women recruited by the Algerian army to carry out attacks in the city's French quarters.
They were tortured and convicted of treason after being captured by their colonizers. The women were pardoned at the war's end, but their problems didn't end there. Instead of being welcomed back home, they were shunned, unable to shake the tainted image that hung over them and assimilate back into society.
There were thousands of such cases, but years of extensive research yielded only the names and corresponding images of 12 women, Faulwell said. These women, whom he represents midway between living and dead, akin to a monument, form the backbone of his work.
"It doesn't really matter to me who I am or where I'm from," the 31-year-old artist said. "I'm not going to just fit into the categories that I'm supposed to fit into. My thinking was that I don't want to make work about myself. I want to make it about something that interests me."
What further surprised Faulwell was that Algerians never wondered about the motive for his work. He found this contrary to the art world's general proclivity to form categories based on ethnicity and gender, which is obvious in other places like Dubai, where he said patrons approached him puzzled about his intent.
He doesn't mind the reactions because it means that people are paying attention.
Faulwell continues to add to his repertoire in a 400-square-foot home studio in Newport Beach. It is there where he made a 14-by-11-inch piece for the Orange County Museum of Art's upcoming Art Auction 2014.
Testing the public's reaction
Faulwell is no stranger to the art complex, having visited it initially as an undergraduate in Santa Barbara and again while studying at Claremont Graduate University. When approached by OCMA Chief Curator Dan Cameron, he set about constructing work that he said would have fetched a retail price of $4,000.
Ninety artists have donated work to the March 14 event, which is being co-chaired by Laurén and Trace Chalmers. It features a cocktail reception and silent auction at 6:30 p.m. followed at 8:30 p.m. by a live auction led by guest auctioneer Andrea Fiuczynski, chairman of Sotheby's West Coast. Work by Peter Alexander, Karl Haendel, Rachel Lachowicz, Steve Roden and others, valued from $1,000 to $100,000, can be previewed March 13.
According to Cameron, who is also OCMA's acting director, an auction symbolizes something of a referendum on the museum. Galleries and artists are more likely to offer support and waive commissions for such an event if they and the arts community are generally favorable toward a museum's work.
"We tell them, 'Please give us something that reflects how you feel about us,'" he said.
The team at OCMA, which makes it a point not to approach the same artists for consecutive auctions, requested photographer Matt Lipps for a small run of special-edition images that will also be up for grabs. Although not part of the silent or live auction, it will be unveiled Friday and offered at a special price for that night only.
Cameron finds that the art auction appeals to a wide audience because admission is affordable and people who collect art — or aspire to do so — know that it's a place where they will encounter high-quality work at a fraction of its market value.
"A lot of what puts people off from buying contemporary art is that it's so expensive," Cameron remarked. "But if you're in an environment where you know your local museum has spent time and invested effort into cultivating relationships with these artists, and the galleries that represent them are feeling positive of the museum, it's a sign that you can get a bargain."
'Taking in new information'
Laurén Chalmers, a transplant from New York City and then Los Angeles, recalls walking into OCMA about six years ago and feeling instantly at home.
Impressed by the cultured and sophisticated people she met and beautiful artwork on display, she and her husband began attending the venue's various events. She became a board member a year ago with an eye toward showcasing and expanding the museum's educational component.
The Irvine resident is exceptionally proud of "Open Studio," a new program being unveiled at OCMA on Thursday. It will allow students enrolled in St. Margaret's Episcopal School's Advanced Placement art classes, along with their parents, to interact with docents and explore and interpret the auction's artwork, Laurén noted.
"One of the things Trace and I would like to see happen is for OCMA to become a destination not only for local residents but visitors," she said. "It's like you have to have that on your bucket list if you come to Orange County. I think that extra night in between for students and teachers will play out well in the community and grow in stature every year."
Unlike the 2012 art auction, the forthcoming festivities will not include a formal, seated dinner. Cameron found that lethargy seemed to set in instead of what he was going for — animation and excitement. Now a shorter and more dramatic auction will be the focal point of the evening.
Venice-based artist Andy Moses has known Cameron since the late '80s, when they were both in Manhattan. Having long admired the curator's innovative choices and offbeat shows, he was happy when asked to support OCMA.
For his third time participating in the auction, Moses contributed "QED Morphology 101," a 2013 creation that combines acrylics and lucite on a wood panel. The 20-by-20-inch piece has a price tag of $3,400.
Moses, who works flat on the ground, views paint in a very scientific way, constantly experimenting with textures, viscosity, patterns and more. He said his paintings occupy "a space between abstraction and a new kind of pictorialism," which blends nature and technology, the two primary sources of information around us.
'It's very easy to compartmentalize the images we see," he noted. "But I wanted to make paintings in which everything is not identifiable at once. You have a moment where you hesitate — you're taking in new information."
If You Go
What: Art Auction 2014
Where: Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach
When: Preview work between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. March 13; auction at 6:30 p.m. March 14
Cost: $125 for OCMA members and $150 for nonmembers