When Gifford Myers was 10 years old, he built a functioning car out of plywood, canvas, fiberglass, wheels and an engine.
The following year, he pieced together an engineless single-seater, which was then entered in the National Soapbox Derby.
"I came third out of three," he said. "But it didn't bother me that I didn't win — the joy was in making it."
Once bitten by the sculpting bug, no project seemed too big to tackle. In the years since, Myers moved on to photography, architecture and painting. Sculpture remained his favorite, though, allowing him to dig through a extensive list of materials, including plastic, cement, metal, wood and others.
Now, at 64, the Altadena resident is among 19 artists featured in "Faux Real," a new exhibit at Laguna Art Museum that features unorthodox sculptures — a porcelain cigar box, clay doughnuts and pastries, a pile of National Geographic magazines whipped out of fabric and a beat-up car bumper, which on closer inspection reveals canvas and paint, to name a few elements.
"Sea Change: Tanya Aguiñiga's Bluebelt Forest" and "ex•pose: beatriz da costa" are also slated to open simultaneously. An opening night reception will celebrate the arrival of new work from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday.
Contemporary art curator Grace Kook-Anderson, who studied at UC Berkeley and is familiar with artists from that neck of the woods, drew on her connections throughout the state for the shows' lineup.
With its pop culture-type references, "Faux Real" is an extension of the funk movement of the 1960s and '70s and highlights great craftsmanship, she said. The show brings together older creators, who pioneered traditions, and younger ones, who ran with what was passed down to them.
"These artists have created playful things from clay, not pristine vessels," Kook-Anderson said.
Fairfax resident Richard Shaw spent 24 years leading classrooms in Berkeley, where he met Kook-Anderson, and 20 years before that at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Joking that he "started drawing because he couldn't read or write," Shaw contributed "Past Habits" — a cigar box containing an open packet of Camel cigarettes and some burned matches — as well as "Still Life with Skull and Glass" — glazed porcelain depicting two books, a deer skull and blown glass that appears to contain alcohol or a murky-colored liquid.
"I think the work comes from my love of realism and humor," said Shaw, 71, a former Newport Beach resident, who was influenced early on by "fantastic" art teachers. "It appealed to me to make people aware of common objects."
Deeming his process "a personal contest," Shaw — who also worked with his father, a United Productions of America employee, to develop the cartoon character Mr. Magoo — said, "I try to push the medium to the point that it doesn't look anything like what it actually is."
Shaw and Myers are good friends, it turns out. The duo shared a mentor — ceramic sculptor, musician and songwriter Ron Nagle — although at different times and at different institutions.
Growing up, Myers spent sleepless nights crafting tree houses, forts and cars in his mind until his eyes closed. Things haven't changed much since, he said, adding, "In art, you are the final judge of the value of your work."
Drawing inspiration from common objects and interactions between people, Myers submitted two fiberglass creations — "Hat for Two Men," an elongated top hat floating eight feet above the wall, and "Poof," a white handkerchief that hangs off the wall, dangling as if held by two invisible fingers. The final part of this three-piece installation is a pair of clown shoes, titled "Ballerina," en pointe but made of solid lead, each weighing about 27 pounds.
Although Myers built the pieces separately, he combined them for the exhibit to enable viewers to "draw stories from the association."
Myers' "So Real" will also be showcased through the summer. Originally displayed in the museum's 1977 show "Illusionistic Realism," it displays bamboo sticks bent to spell out the words "So Real." The principal ingredient is clay, however, not bamboo.
Also in the pipeline at the Laguna Art Museum is Beatriz da Costa's 12.5-minute triptych video installation "Dying for the Other," which will be on loop and projected on a wall. An "Anti-Cancer Survival Kit," made up of green tea, dark chocolate, a notepad and other items, will be placed in a glass cabinet; Kook-Anderson called the contents "accents or markers that punctuated Beatriz's daily life."
The artist, who died in December, worked to increase awareness about the disease, as evidenced by the presence of an iPad, with a video game designed as an educational tool, and a laptop, providing access to a cancer research database.
Aguiñiga, whose work makes up the third show opening Sunday, was originally slated for inclusion in "Faux Real," but, eventually, a more interactive route was chosen for her art. Now the museum's upper level will be outfitted with kelp, coral and barnacles — a fabric recreation of aquatic life in and around Laguna Beach — that visitors can touch.
About the new offerings at the museum, Kook-Anderson said, "I hope the initial reaction is fun and playfulness. Art doesn't have to be a deadly serious thing. It can have witty and smart elements to it."
If You Go
What: "Faux Real," "Sea Change: Tanya Aguiñiga's Bluebelt Forest" and "ex•pose: beatriz da costa"
Where: Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach
When: Opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The exhibits' regular run begins Sunday with hours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Tuesday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. "Faux Real" and "ex•pose: beatriz da costa" will be on display through Sept. 29 and "Sea Change: Tanya Aguiñiga's Bluebelt Forest" through May 18, 2014.
Cost: $7 general admission; $5 for students, seniors and active military; free for museum members, children under 12 and everyone on the first Thursday of every month from 5 to 9 p.m.
Information: (949) 494-8971 or http://www.lagunaartmuseum.org