Speculative Terrain - Recent Views of the Southern California Landscape from San Diego to Santa Barbara

September 12 - November 14, 2004


(above: James Doolin: LA After 2000, 1995-96)


Opening September 12, 2004 at Loyola Marymount University's Laband Art Gallery, Speculative Terrain - Recent Views of the Southern California Landscape from San Diego to Santa Barbara features views from the Cuyamaca Mountains (east of San Diego), the Salton Sea and high deserts, the urban, suburban and wetland areas of Orange and Los Angeles Counties, and north into the Santa Barbara foothills. 

The exhibit is organized by Gordon Fuglie, director of the Laband Art Gallery, and gives special attention to the late Los Angeles painter James Doolin.  Other artists represented in the exhibit include Phoebe Brunner, Rebecca Morales, John Humble, John Divola, Lauren Richardson and from LMU's department of Art and Art History -- photographer Soo Kim and painter Marina Moevs.

Fuglie spent nearly two years selecting Speculative Terrain, choosing more than forty works by thirty artists. He credits the late Los Angeles painter James Doolin, who died in 2002, as the inspiration for the exhibition.

"Jim was just another geometric abstractionist painter in the 1970s when he abruptly turned his back on Late Modernism to become an 'illusionist,'" says Fuglie, referring to Doolin's embrace of representational imagery of the Southern California desert, downtown Los Angeles, and the dramatic angularity of freeways and flood-control channels. (right: Bruce Everett: Santa Clara Sandbar, 2001)

Fuglie sees Doolin and his wife, painter Lauren Richardson, as pioneers in the resurgence of representational art in the L.A. scene during the 1990s. They and other painters portrayed the dramatic changes in the landscape with the population explosion and sprawling development from San Diego to Santa Barbara, as well as depicting the few remaining and endangered open tracts of land.  Along with painters, Fuglie has included eight photographers in the exhibition with visual sensibilities and concerns similar to those in the selected paintings.

Born in Los Angeles during the post-war "baby boom," Fuglie confesses anxiety about the changes that have marked Southern California, and hopes that the works by painters and photographers, in addition to being contemplated for their content and beauty, will encourage deeper reflection about how the Southern California region uses and plan for the environmental future.

 A free public reception will be held in the Dunning Courtyard at the Fritz B. Burns Fine Art Center from 3:30 to 5:30 pm on September 12. The reception is preceded by a literary event,The Contours of Our Terrain:  Readings on the Landscape and Literature in Los Angeles, to be held at 2 p.m. in Murphy Recital Hall, adjacent to the Laband Gallery. Contours will be moderated by nationally-known poet and novelist Gail Wronsky, author of Dying for Beauty. Other panelists are poet Molly Bendall, author ofAriadne's Island; poet, fiction writer and critic Ramon Garcia; and novelist Chuck Rosenthal, author of Elena of the Stars.

Speculative Terrainis dedicated to the memory of James Doolin. It opened at the Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard, in December of 2003, and then traveled to the Riverside Art Museum.. The exhibition completes its tour at LMU's Laband Art Gallery.

Following is the essay from the exhibit's catalogue:


Speculative Terrain: Recent Views of the Southern California Landscape from San Diego to Santa Barbara

by Gordon L. Fuglie, Exhibition Curator


Our sense of Southern California as an important subject in art starts with the so-called California Impressionists in the early 20th century. Known for their portrayals of the natural beauty of the region, their work showed the lower half of the state as an Edenic pastoral, untainted by mass development. In the 1930s and 40s the next generation of artists fixed their attention on the "social landscape", depicting settled, urban and industrial subjects as the region grew in population and commerce. At mid-century, however, and with the rise of Modernism and abstract modes, accompanied by the "slippage" of representational art practice, significant works of art that portrayed Southern California became few and far between.

Up to 1970, it seemed that a few noteworthy photographers were the only artists interested in depicting the region; virtually no painters engaged with Southern California as a place. That changed in 1969 when the painter James Doolin foreswore abstraction for representation, and in 1972 set for himself the task of painting his first landscape opus, Shopping Mall. It was an elaborate aerial perspective view of downtown Santa Monica upon which he labored for five years. Such an intense commitment to "illusionism," as Doolin often called it, taught him his chops and he became the pre-eminent painter of the Southern California landscape until his death in 2002.

When you think about it, Southern California presents endless opportunities for artists. So why did it take artists so long to come to grips with the fecund array of their own surroundings at a time when the landscape was undergoing drastic physical changes? My theory is that the authoritarian legacy of Late Modernism in its last stages constrained all but the most independent of artists. One should recall that Modernism's way of making and understanding art had as its agenda the severing of links to the past, and this included the discrediting of representational art for a good part of the 20th century.

But that was then. In subsequent years a good many Modernists have since retired from academia and art criticism. As a result, the demise of Late Modernism has left us with the "expanded field" of Post-Modernism where, supposedly, all forms of art making are now permitted. The style pendulum is swinging back toward representation and figuration and the 1990's saw these approaches emerge with strength.

This was a timely emergence, for Southern California was undergoing dramatic changes in its landscape with the population explosion and sprawling development from San Diego to Santa Barbara. To many it seemed that the few remaining open tracts of land would soon be gone. Among the first artists to respond to these changes were photographers who trekked to industrial sites, the desert and housing developments to document the enormous changes in the region. The painters had their own agendas and weren't far behind. Speculative Terrain gathers photography and painting from artists who in recent years have answered back to these changes with compelling work.

As a native of Southern California, I must confess to a certain anxiety about the changes that have irrevocably altered our region. I hope that the works in this exhibition will be contemplated for their content and beauty, and will encourage deeper reflection about how we currently make use of our land, and how we plan for our future on it.

(above: Stephanie Sanchez: Sulphur Piles, Wilmington, 2002)


Resource Library editor's note:

Resource Library published the above article and accompanying essay on August 25, 2004. The essay is reprinted with permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to obtain a copy of the exhibition catalogue, please contact the Laband Art Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address: 310-338-2880; http://www.lmu.edu/colleges/cfa/art/laband/

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University in Resource Library.

Also see:

California Art History

California Artists: 19th-21st Century

California Impressionism

California Regionalism and California School of Painters

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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