It’s easy to drive down Cabrillo Avenue, along the east end of Old Torrance, without noticing APC Fine Arts & Graphics Gallery. Located within a print shop – the APC stands for Automatic Printing Company – there are three small, interconnected rooms, which Ron Libbrecht installed eight years ago. He didn’t really start out with the intention of showcasing other people’s artwork; primarily he wanted to showcase his own. But over the last four years he’s had a variety of exhibitions, and although APC remains an under-recognized South Bay venue for the arts, the current body of work – titled “Elements of Strata” and featuring Carolyn Buck Vosburgh, Nancy Mooslin, and Libbrecht himself – is as good as it gets around here. The opening reception is this Sunday, June 30, from 2 to 5 p.m.
It kind of began like this.
APC has done a considerable amount of printing for hotels, and Libbrecht wanted a space where people – potential clients – could come in and see his work. “And so the first [function] of the gallery was to promote that. The problem,” he says, “is that you’re always self-promoting. Self-promoting is good, but you don’t need that much self-promotion: You actually need to figure out how to promote other people, so that as you promote others you get seen as well. That’s when I started integrating the idea of other artists coming in.”
Libbrecht – who is a prolific painter, in oils and water color, of seascapes in particular – still manages to include his latest work in almost every show that he mounts. Fortunately he happens to be a very good artist, so there can’t be too many complaints about self-indulgence or self-aggrandizement. He has a Masters in Drawing and Painting from California State University, Long Beach, and he’s been teaching locally for years, through his own gallery and through the Torrance Cultural Arts Center.
Which brings us to “Elements of Strata,” a show that is indeed about layers – physical layers of material and the layering of ideas, one atop the other. The work is not all that easy to grasp, especially the paintings of Nancy Mooslin, and I haven’t seen anything quite like hers since Catherine Tirr’s pictures early last year in the Manhattan Beach Creative Arts Center. Mooslin’s work, though, scoots off into unfathomable depths and – at the risk of my seeming a bit obtuse – brings up thoughts of the composer Alexander Scriabin and the Synchromist painter Stanton MacDonald-Wright, with a visual result that’s a bit like Monet’s water lilies but much more colorful (like a Grateful Dead album cover) and much more abstract.
Libbrecht went to art school in Long Beach with Mooslin from 1978 to 1980, and they’ve remained friends for what I guess must be going on 35 years.
“Her emphasis is on music,” Libbrecht says. “She takes the keyboard of a piano and paints it so that all the colored notes are on the piano. The colors are then used to paint the painting, and they are actually symphonies that have been written for scores. The color is directly related to the sound at a certain time.”
The composers whom Mooslin has artistically connected with are primarily our slightly older contemporaries, such as Donald Crockett, Stephen Stucky, and Samuel Barber. More recently, I think, she’s had another look – or rather a listen – at George Frideric Handel and his “Water Music.”
Mooslin’s latest work, Libbrecht points out, “is about water flowing: the water flowing with the symphony. The rhythm of the water is causing the rhythm of the sound.” Essentially, her colors seem to be swimming in a lake, a river, or an ocean. They’re intriguing, these harmonically visual compositions that dance for the eye if we just give them a chance and dive right into them.
Carolyn Buck Vosburgh’s work is no less riveting. Libbrecht and I are standing in front of one, and then another. I not only contemplate each piece, I find myself pulled up to them as close as possible.
“In the back of this piece there’s a book,” Libbrecht says, meaning that there’s a page from one, and we can vaguely make out both text and illustration. “She’s painted on top of these pages and then layered a piece of Mylar on top of that, and painted on top of that as well. On top of the Mylar is a piece of vellum tracing paper.”
This too has been drawn on, and then it looks as if Vosburgh has added gold leaf.
“The integration of the layers creates the visual form and then the information relates back and forth,” Libbrecht says, “historically, aesthetically, and organically.” This can be said of virtually all artwork, but Vosburgh’s really does need to be seen in person.
Because we can literally see into her work, we are probably getting a glimpse into Vosburgh herself, since all these organic forms are kind of a tangle – even a tango – that relate to personal insights and experiences in her own life. Perhaps, in some ways, each work is a reflection of her personality – again, because of the use of layering, keeping in line with the overarching theme of the show.
Naturally, Libbrecht can be more precise when he speaks about his own work. In what he’s created most recently the paint itself is palpable, physical. “I think more about the material,” he says, referring to the actual texture of paint on canvas. “You can feel the movement of the paint.”
The idea of layers, of striations and strata, is clearly evident in Libbrecht’s scenes of incoming waves and swells. “Painting has always been for me about how to see through [to] what’s underneath. You can watch movement happen. The bottom of something in here,” he says, pointing, “you would find in little pieces through the thicker paint… This integration of surface, of layers, is what the pieces are about, and […] using water or movement as a vehicle gives [me] the chance to play with a sense of space. So you have both the layered space of the materials and the physical space of the image.”
Where it came from
Although a few classic buildings in Old Torrance have since been demolished – does anyone remember the stand-alone Pussycat Theatre with its mezzanine? – virtually everything else still standing has had several reincarnations. For example, the current home of the Torrance Theatre Company between Cabrillo and Border, near the Depot restaurant, was an old print shop back in 1926, and that’s where Ron Libbrecht’s father, Bill, started working in 1955. And that’s where Automatic Printing Company was initially located.
Bill Libbrecht was a printer, and then became the foreman about ten years later, and the general manager not long after that. When the owner passed away, the senior Libbrecht took over the business with one of the salesmen. That was in the late ‘70s, and in 1985 the other fellow decided to move on and so Bill Libbrecht became the sole owner.
“I started working there in 1981,” Ron Libbrecht says, mainly as a driver for the company. However, “with the mix of me delivering the jobs I could also accept orders since I wasn’t just a delivery guy, I was the owner’s son, too. So there was a little bit more confiding in me, and that happened with several customers. We could do more work because I was turning into the salesman (even though) I was the delivery guy.”
He was also the in-house artist, and then learned how to use the camera – those old ones that resemble cannons rather than Canons – and was able to make the large negatives that were so integral to the old school kind of press-driven printing.
As Libbrecht puts it, he learned printing from the old guys. Behind the galleries and the customer service area is where the print shop is, and when we walk back there who do we see but Bill Libbrecht himself, still manning the presses after several decades. His son says that his dad is now retired and yet still working almost as many hours as before. Anyone who has labored in the printing business – yours truly once shoveled coal into the furnaces of PIP, or Postal Instant Press – knows that a good printer is a true craftsman. Needless to say, the digital age has altered that landscape drastically.
APC left its location down the street at Cabrillo and Border in 1997 and moved to Gardena, where it stayed for five years. In 2002 a print shop where APC is now located asked Ron Libbrecht to come in and take over. He not only did that, he moved his family’s company there as well, and so they’ve been at the present site for 11 years.
And that’s your local history lesson for the day.
Not content to rest on his accomplishments thus far, Ron Libbrecht hopes to teach art workshops at APC. But in order for that to happen he needs a little more open space.
And so right now he’s in the process of clearing some room at the rear of the shop.
“I don’t want to get rid of the printing,” he emphasizes. “Commercial printing in today’s market has change quite a bit, but if I don’t evolve and let something happen that I’d like to do then I’m not going to have a chance to really do what the space can provide.
“I’m trying to let things go a little more digital, so the digital machines are doing more of the work than the offset presses.” In other words, he’s going with the times and not resisting the changes that have affected the industry.
Libbrecht has taught outdoor, or plein air, classes in the past, but realizes that people often want a more comfortable setting. When people enter the shop they see the galleries and the art, and sometimes they inquire about classes. They also notice that Libbrecht is a fine arts printer, meaning that APC prints note cards, posters, postcards, art catalogues, giclée prints, and other artist-friendly material. If artists would be coming into his shop for classes then they would likely take advantage of these services.
Libbrecht also hopes to fire up a Thursday night art walk, one Thursday a month, much as they’ve done – and quite successfully – down in San Pedro. He gave it a shot last year, but it didn’t quite take off. However, Old Torrance seems to be coming to life – the California Museum of Fine Art opened there a few months ago and it has lots of potential – and with a little more cooperation from neighboring businesses Libbrecht may yet get something going that showcases local culture.
In the meantime he’s been putting up one art show after another in his gallery. They are often two-, three-, or four-person shows, intimate shows, really, and occasionally – like his newest – they are deserving of wider, more serious attention.
Elements of Strata, featuring work by Nancy Mooslin, Carolyn Buck Vosburgh, and Ron Libbrecht, opens Sunday with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. at APC Fine Arts & Graphics Gallery, 1621 Cabrillo Ave., Torrance. Hours, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturday (inquire about hours). Through August 9. Call (310) 328-0366 or go to apcfinearts.com.