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Digging Into a Grab Bag’s ‘Center’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Throw open your doors to the art-making public and what you get, seemingly, is a little bit of everything.

Surfboard art, photography, portrait work, sculpture that plays with shadow and light.

“This show is honest, it is what it is,” said Tyler Stallings, curator of the Huntington Beach Art Center, where “Centered on the Center” runs through Jan. 25.

This year’s salon-style show, an open call to artists in Orange and Los Angeles counties, brought in nearly 400 works reflecting an array not only of subject matter but also of skill level. Many such “open” shows are juried, reflecting at least one person’s point of view. But the art center decided to step out of the way and see what kind of art showed up.

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This is not surprising, given the center’s open mind about what constitutes an art exhibition. Since opening in 1995, the center has had shows on such subjects as UFOs and skateboarding, has played host to performance artists and has generally shown itself to be risk-taking. What Stallings and art center director Naida Osline want to achieve with “Centered on the Center” is an unfiltered convergence of art, free from preconceptions. Art as a populist enterprise, minus the political or academic baggage.

“I discovered that the most popular subject matter was figurative, with landscape second biggest, while the least amount of work was still life and abstract,” Stallings said. “Does that then say something about what artists like doing?”

Michael Roberts of Huntington Beach is a good example of an emerging artist who has never before been given a forum for his work. A construction worker by day and avid surfer for most of his adult life, Roberts, 51, began several years ago to transform old, discarded surfboards into pieces of sculpture, peeling away the outer layer of fiberglass and carving the foam innards into sea creatures, which he painted.

Now the center has given Roberts his first official showing.

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“That’s the thing,” Osline said. “There are so few opportunities, even if you just think you’re an artist, to find a place in which to share your work.”

And much of the work here is far from staid.

“High Noon,” an abstract sculpture by artist Skeith DeWine of Santa Ana, is unique not so much for the sculpture itself but for the shadow image projected onto the wall behind it--that of a cowboy poised for a gunfight.

DeWine says he hit upon the technique of projecting a realistic image by shining a light on an abstract image after watching another artist create silhouettes on a board.

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His piece is titled “High Noon,” he says, because that reflects the standoff between the abstract sculpture and the realistic shadow.

“Here’s this sculpture and here’s this shadow, and it’s like they’re saying, ‘Which one of us is art?’ ” said DeWine, 30, whose work has previously been shown at META Gallery in Santa Ana.

“Centered on the Center” is grouped in three sections: figurative work in Gallery 1, landscape work in Gallery 2, and abstract and still-life work in Gallery 3.

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Two hundred artists participated, the bulk of them from Orange County. Larger works--such as Brenda Regier’s “Transparent Glass,” which the artist describes as a feminist statement on art history (the piece includes 178 black-and-white transparencies depicting women in art, hanging mobile-like from a garden trellis)--are given a chance to breathe.

In addition, paintings have been grouped not by skill but by medium. “What I like about this show is that grandmothers have been allowed to come in and do their thing right next to skateboard punks,” said artist David Adams, 26, of Fountain Valley.

Adams, a graduate of Cal Arts in Valencia, has two entries. One is an interactive installation called “A Legend of His Own Mind,” a zoo-like piece that has the distinction of turning Wally George, the ultraconservative Orange County cable talk show host, into art. George is part of a video that plays continuously on a television; at the base of the set, a toy train runs continuously, a stereo plays nearby, while toys and various other visual and audio stimuli compete for the viewer’s attention.

“It’s talking about the overabundance of the mundane,” Adams said. “With that overabundance comes the lack of something. I’m not sure what that lack is.”

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Another intriguing installation comes from students and faculty in the art department at UC Irvine.

It’s a panel of cubbyholes mounted on a wall, with images from a gas mask to cigarette butts packed in sawdust and sandwiched between plexiglass in the 16 slots.

"[UC Irvine] is kind of important to the art-making in Orange County, so we wanted to sample that,” said Loren Sandvik, supervisor of sculpture facilities at the school and a participant in the project.

* “Centered on the Center” continues through Jan. 25 at the Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St.. A closing reception will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Jan. 24. Hours: Tuesdays and Wednesdays, noon to 6 p.m.; Thursdays, noon to 8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. $3; $2 for students. (714) 374-1650.

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