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''Exploring the Impact of Water''
at the Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, California
Review by Shirle Gottlieb

The subject of water in this exhibition connects pure artistic expression to broader social and political issues.

The 26 diverse works on display in “Influential Element:  Exploring the Impact of Water” were created by 19 California artists for this exhibit. Collectively, they present a provocative picture of water that extends far beyond what the show's title implies.
No one can deny that water is an "influential" element in the development of California. Our state has hundreds of miles of beautiful, invaluable coastline and is home to two major West coast ports--not to mention the "impact" of water on business, recreation, education, and health within its borders. More essentially, without water there is no life. In addition to sustaining the physical world, water has often served as a metaphor for "mysteries" that reside in the spiritual realm.
Just so, the wide range of artistic expression here reflects and depicts what water is, does, represents, and signifies. The works on view alternately reassure, reinforce, satisfy, disturb, and ring an alarm. Whether presented as dramatic or comical, lyrical or political, realistic or romantic, viewers get the message. In almost every case the words "survival," "sustainability," and "reverence" spring to mind. Reflective of this posture is "Genesis ll," Matthew Cornell's beautiful seascape of gentle waves flowing over a rocky coastline. Although the painting is aesthetically stunning, the water's muddy red color delivers a signal that ecological trouble may be brewing.

F. Scott Hess's dramatic painting of "The Wave" is an expressionistic diptych, half of which was inspired by a terrifying dream, the other source being a study of an Edward Hopper drawing. It depicts a massive wave so powerful it crashes through the door to engulf the artist and his daughter. Their shocked facial expressions are equivocal: Are they in total panic caused by their violent physical disaster, or are they caught in the rapture of religious fervor?

In complete contrast, Sant Khalsa photographed 22 small community store-fronts that turn water into commodities sold in a variety of familiar forms. Viewers are shown smiling in recognition as they read the business' signs: "Bottled Water to Go," "Ice for Sale," "H2O Fortified with Vitamins," "Purified Water," "Imported from Italy," even "Virgin Water" and "Glacial Springs."
Will Nobel captures blue/silver/white abstract "Reflections" of trees in his glorious, 41-inch transparent watercolor. Jon Ng's realistic acrylic painting ("Backbay Vista") depicts the ongoing effect of tides and water patterns on a swath of natural land  behind LAX runways and the adjacent highlands.
You can't walk by Young-ll Ahn's mesmerizing red painting without pausing to study it. From a distance it appears to be a mosaic, but it's not. Called "Water Series #360," it's composed of thousands of tiny brush rendered red/brown squares that are placed strategically on top of each other. Even up close the artist's painting technique plays optical tricks with your eyes. Ahn's explanation of this work's derivation adds mystery and dimension to the allusion. He was lost at sea for hours in a dense fog. After searching in vain for the horizon, he felt doomed. Light finally broke through at dawn, and he was saved. The event continues to haunt him.
Todd Brainard went to the actual site in the Antelope Valley where the massive Los Angeles Aqueduct rises out of the earth to pass over the rushing water of the California Aqueduct.  On the spot, Brainard painted a vibrant desert landscape which he aptly named "X-treme Crossing."
Bill Viola's high-definition video will leave you speechless. Titled "Tempest (Study for the Raft)," it moves so slowly and imperceptibly you barely notice that it's changing; but once you do you're hooked. Viola recorded a group of people that represent a cross-section of society, all standing together on a street corner - perhaps waiting for a light to change. Included are all classes, races and colors; high brows and blue collars; haves and have-nots. None of them speak to each other or even notice the presence of anyone near them. Out of nowhere, massive onslaughts of water appear from the sides with tremendous force. Everyone is knocked down, bodies are pummeled, faces freeze in fear, arms reach out for support. People cling to each in desperation.
Then as suddenly as the "Tempest" began it stops - leaving a ragged, battered, bewildered band of drenched humanity. Slowly, ever so slowly, the final image is frozen in time. Some figures are crying, some raise their arms in prayer, some reach down to aid the fallen, others have drowned. Viewers sit spellbound, unable to move. "Those who don't learn from history are destined to repeat it."

Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2011

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