Tucked away in the Los Alamitos building on the southeast corner of the Main Mall is the OC Fair’s Visual Arts Gallery.
It’s next door to the OC Promenade building, which houses culinary arts, and is partially obscured by the growing number of food stands selling hot dogs, chili cheese fries, kung pao chicken and deep-fried Snickers on a stick.
The Visual Arts Gallery showcases achievements by mostly Orange County residents in photography and fine arts, although anyone living in California can submit work. More than 1,700 pieces by professionals and amateurs are on display in a clean, air-conditioned, gallery-type setting.
“You get all types of people coming in, some who have never set foot in a gallery,” said Stephen Anderson, visual arts coordinator at the fair since 2015. “It’s a more intimate setting. Here you’re going from eating a turkey leg to going into a building with fine art and photography. So it’s not your normal venue at the fair.”
Getting accepted into the fair’s visual art exhibits is not easy. This year, 4,218 photographs were submitted, and only 827 made it — a 19.6% acceptance rate.
Professional fine artists had an easier time getting work in, with 355 works submitted and 168 accepted — a 47.3% acceptance rate. Amateur fine artists submitted 672 works, with 256 accepted — or 38.1%.
There’s only one featured, or invited, artist this year. Previous years have seen several guest artists, as well as art collectives or groups.
This year’s featured artist is Narsiso Martinez, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, who now lives in Long Beach. He draws and prints portraits of farmworkers who pick the fruits and vegetables that people in this country and around the world consume.
To pay for college, Martinez spent many years working alongside these laborers, picking fruit and getting to know his fellow pickers well enough to photograph them and later, draw and paint their portraits.
“I wanted to make this show about farmworkers, so I call it ‘Los Farmworkers,’ ” said Martinez, 41. “The bandanas [hanging from the walls] are here to make a comment on the pesticides. It hurts. It smells really bad. They need the bandanas for protection, but sometimes they take them off to work faster.”
Martinez has decorated actual cardboard produce boxes with images of the workers, sometimes hard at work, sometimes taking a break in the fields. Oftentimes the workers are unrecognizable, as they are wearing caps, hoodies and the bandanas to protect themselves from the sun, dust and pesticides.
“The boxes not only represent the ranch owners’ way of living, but the whole agribusiness,” Martinez said. “It’s interesting, because the [workers] can incite this sense of fear because that’s how they look, but in reality, they are the ones who are scared. That’s why they have to wear this protection.”
As in previous years, students from the Laguna College of Art + Design have a section devoted to their work in drawing and painting, illustration, entertainment design, animation, game art, graphic design and digital media.
The Visual Arts Gallery also spotlights works by the competition’s judges, as well as the staff who hang the art and keep the show running.
The art and photographs by the general public are divided into multiple divisions and subject categories, including young adult, professional, amateur, animals, people, plants, landscapes, travel, digital graphic art and woodworking.
Judges have awarded blue, red and white ribbons for first, second and third place, respectively, as well as honorable mentions and judge’s pick ribbons.
There are winners in more than two dozen divisions. The Best of Show winner in professional fine arts is “The Bean,” an acrylic painting by Andrea Gutierrez that includes coffee grounds and coffee filters on wood panel.
The Best of Show winner in amateur fine arts is an untitled sculpture by Jordan Young, featuring a glass cast hand and a bottle with a wood base.
In the young adult division, Best of Show honors went to Thomas Cho for his clever drawing of Chinese terracotta warriors morphing into skyscrapers.
The overall winner in photography is “Blossoming Coral Tree” by Koustav Maity. Her color image features “20 images of the same tree from different orientations, blended together to get a painterly look,” according to her own entry description.
The Best of Show winner in young adult photography is “Hold on Tight” by Kate Toller. The color photo captures Toller’s friend mid-air while she’s riding a swing at an unnamed Orange County park.
Ken Cowell won the Best of Show award in woodworking for his rose table with ebony-tipped legs.
Woodworking is actually located in the Anaheim building, on the northeast corner of the Main Mall. Demonstrations by members of the Orange County Woodworkers Assn. often take place there, so visitors can witness the woodworking process.
There’s no doubt that judging for the visual arts exhibition is a subjective process. That’s why each year the judges host a walk-through, which will take place at 5 p.m. on the last Saturday of the fair, Aug. 10. The jurors typically explain why they picked what they did during this event, which will be preceded by an awards ceremony at 3 p.m.
A few other special events include “Plein Air at the Fair” on July 21, a one-day painting contest where participants are encouraged to paint anywhere at the fair and have their work on display and eligible for cash prizes; a “Photo Shoot Out” from 1 to 3 p.m. July 28; and an exhibition of live flower arrangement by Sogetsu Ikebana through July 21.
Workshops, art demonstrations and live music are also scheduled through the run of the fair, which ends Aug. 11.
IF YOU GO
What: 2019 OC Fair Juried Exhibition
When: Noon-11 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Aug. 11
Where: OC Fair Visual Arts Gallery, Los Alamitos building, OC Fair, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: $7 to $14 (included in fair admission)
Information: (714) 708-1624 or ocfair.com