Exhibit documents El Toro's history

IRVINE — Laguna Beach artist Jorg Dubin looked at the weathered El Toro Marine Corps Air Station runways and saw not decay or land seeped in political controversy, but a "Blue Heaven."

His unique perspective will be unveiled to the public Saturday at the inaugural exhibition of the newly constructed Great Park Gallery and Palm Court Arts Complex.

Sculptures and 18 oil-on-canvas representations of the Marine air base, including "My Blue Heaven," "House of Blue Lights" and "LVF-18," are included in the show "Plane Air Power," which runs through Oct. 16.

The exhibit's title is a play on words derived from the 20th century style of California plein air painters and incorporating the history of the base and those who lived there.

"Looking at these paintings, you can see how much time [Dubin] spent here and how he was fascinated with not only the land but the ghost-like buildings of the empty airbase before it underwent a transformation to become a park," said Henry Korn, park program officer of arts, culture and heritage.

Honoring the history and paying respect to those who lived and worked at the base is part of the ongoing mission of the gallery, which itself is a rehabbed original structure from the World War II-era base.

"The exhibition is all about transformation," Korn said while studying "Left to R 34," which depicts yellowed vegetation breaking through cracks in a section of the El Toro runway as the base was slowly reclaimed by nature.

"The ironic thing about Jorg's paintings is that they were done before the transformation took place," Korn continued. "Now the paintings themselves are displayed in a building that is part of the transition."

The Palm Arts Complex debuted to the public on July 9 at the park's sixth anniversary event. It is comprised of the 3,900-square-foot gallery and a 6,400-square-foot artists studio building, which will house the park's artists-in-residence.

Both buildings were former aviation squadron storage facilities built in 1943. Blue inlaid markers in the Palm Court outline the perimeter of a third, demolished squadron building — yet another nod to the historical significance of the site.

"It's important to preserve the history of the base because so many people lived and worked here and we want to honor that," said park spokeswoman Jenn Starnes. "Having exhibitions like this is one way to do that and preserves the park's vision of bringing art to the public."

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