Art offers a feast of a different kind for OC Fair visitors

Art offers a feast of a different kind for OC Fair visitors
Heidi Gauthreaux’s “Sunrise at the Bosque,” a color image of two cranes in flight, won the best-of-show in adult photography at the Orange County Fair’s Visual Arts 2018 exhibition. (Courtesy of Heidi Gauthreaux)

Orange County fairgoers seeking relief from the heat might just find a whole lot of culture and creative energy — as well as soothing air conditioning — in the fair’s annual visual art exhibition, inside the Los Alamitos building on the Main Mall.

The Visual Art Gallery showcases achievements by mostly Orange County residents in photography, fine art and woodworking, although anyone living in California can submit their work. More than 1,800 pieces by professionals and amateurs are on display in a polished, cool, gallery-type setting.


“We are presenting it in a pretty high gallery, museum-caliber environment,” said Stephen Anderson, visual art coordinator at the fair since 2015. “We get a lot of people that have probably never come to an art exhibit. They’re here for the fair, the food, the carnival, and they kind of come in and say, ‘Oh, where am I?’ It’s quiet, the lighting is different. So it could be their first real exposure to an art setting. We try and present it the best we can.”

Getting accepted into the fair’s visual art exhibition is no walk in the park. This year, 4,465 photographs were submitted, and only 859 were accepted — a 19.2% acceptance rate.


Professional fine artists fared better, with 345 works submitted and 162 accepted — a 47% acceptance rate. And amateur fine artists submitted 662 works, with 259 accepted — a 39.1% acceptance rate.

“Just to get in is competitive, especially for photography,” Anderson said.

Artists and photographers are also able to sell their displayed work directly to the public, and the fair does not take a commission.

“It benefits the artist, the public and the art-goer, seeing what people are doing, and it’s mostly local,” he said.

The art and photographs are divided into multiple divisions and subject categories, including young adult, animals, people, acrylics, drawings, landscapes, travel, digital graphic art and special effects.

Like other exhibits and showcases at the fair, the 2018 OC Fair Juried Exhibition is a competition with cash prizes, and blue ribbons abound for Best of Show and top winners in each division and category. There are also red ribbons for second place, white ribbons for third, light-blue honorable mentions and judges’ favorite picks.

The Best-of-Show winner in adult photography is “Sunrise at the Bosque,” a color image of two cranes in flight by Heidi Gauthreaux. In the amateur adult fine art division, the Best-of-Show winner is Roland Escalona’s dot-covered acrylic, “Human Race.” It’s a visual representation of humanity’s diverse nature.

In the professional fine art category, the overall winner is Michael Paieda’s pen and ink drawing, “Goat in a Mess,” which depicts a goat dissected into curious pieces and is reminiscent of M.C. Escher.

There are winners in more than two dozen divisions, including Cindy Forsthoff’s photo “Cowboy,” and Elizabeth Mui’s artwork “A Legacy of Johnny Appleseed,” which both won awards for best representing the fair’s theme this year, “Free Your Inner Farmer.”

Deciding which is best is a subjective process, Anderson admits, and he welcomes folks to attend a judges’ walk-through at 5 p.m. Aug. 11, when the jurors get the opportunity to explain why they picked what they did. An awards ceremony will take place the same day at 3 p.m.

Each year the Visual Art Gallery holds live demonstrations and showcases work by professional featured artists, who are also mostly local. This year’s exhibit is called “Museum of Agrarian Art,” which circles back to the fair’s “farmer” theme.

Behind the scenes of the fair’s visual art exhibit, the hardworking staff and volunteers hang work, answer questions and become a kind of summertime community. Many have worked alongside each other for a dozen years or more.

John and Lily Lew of Fountain Valley are staffers who have helped organize and hang the art exhibit for 15 years. They are both retiring this year, after the fair is done on Aug. 12.

“We are all satisfied when the fair starts, because we actually get to see all of our hard work on display,” said John Lew, lead exhibit specialist for the art show. He helps oversee installation of all artwork and exhibits, and works with artists to get their pieces to the gallery and on display.

“We provide an educational opportunity that [visitors] may not think about,” Lew said. “It’s an art museum in the middle of the fair, and when they come inside, they quiet down and start to enjoy a different aspect of the fair.”

If You Go

What: 2018 OC Fair Juried Exhibition

When: Wednesdays to Sundays, through Aug. 12

Where: OC Fair Visual Art Gallery. Los Alamitos building, OC Fair, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $7 to $14 (included in fair admission)

Information: (714) 708-1718,

Richard Chang is a contributor to Times Community News.