Tried and True: On solid footing at the California Museum of Fine Art
Art galleries often reflect the people who run them, with local examples being South Bay Contemporary (Peggy Zask) – which is eclectic, impish, playful – and Ego Fine Arts (John Cantu), which is a visual orgy of color and sound with a slap-happy bohemian, joie de vivre attitude.
By contrast, the California Museum of Fine Art (CMoFA) in Old Torrance is reserved, muted, reliant on conservative or time-tested principles, and tends to highlight artists who by and large have studied the masters of centuries past and do not deviate far from established traditions.
We can see this firsthand in the Spring Exhibition which opens Saturday and features 14 artists, including work by director Dali Higa and, from Russia, the acclaimed Nikolai Blokhin.
That’s one thing CMoFA is offering – artists who live in or grew up in other countries, who mastered their medium by way of different influences, styles and techniques.
“Part of our mission,” says Brian Higa, “was to have international artists that we felt were of the highest caliber to bring an international flavor to our local museum.” Higa, who is a music instructor, co-owns the venue with his Chinese-born wife, Dali.
They’re both proud of the new show and the opportunity to showcase Blokhin’s work. This artist, born in 1968 in St. Petersburg, has received many awards, such as the Grand Prize at the American Society of Portrait Artists competition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2002. His paintings are figurative (portraits, still lifes, landscapes) with a light Impressionist touch.
One of two artists who sat down recently to discuss their work is Danny McCaw, brother of John McCaw, and both of them sons of Dan McCaw. All three McCaws are active, noted painters who share a studio just around the corner from CMoFA.
Danny McCaw admits that his work resembles his father’s. However, “I do a lot of abstractions as well.”
Which is pretty much brother John’s domain.
“It’s more kind of material-based abstraction,” Danny McCaw says of John’s work. “I pick up what he does a lot. We’re all working like a tornado in there. We’re all experimenting and trying things and pushing one another.”
Many artists study their craft at school and along the way pick up a diploma or two, but Danny McCaw deviated from that scenario, although he attended El Camino for a couple of years and took life-drawing classes. However, his father was on the faculty of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena for 17 years and that played heavily into his, Danny’s, artistic development.
“I used to just work with him; and then his students became teachers and I started working at their studios. So I was getting an education, but not a formal education with a diploma.”
Danny McCaw has a lot of years ahead of him; he’s still a young guy and he’s not sitting still:
“I have an aesthetic that I like, but I experiment outside that to push what I’m doing. I don’t always want to stay the same ‘cause I have to grow as an artist and as an individual.
All three McCaws have work on view in the new exhibition.
By way of comparison, Vadim Zanginian was born in Armenia in 1965 and came to the States in the early ‘90s after being invited to show his work here. “I wasn’t planning to stay,” he says, “but who’s going to say no to (someone’s) offering you a job in the U.S.?”
Zanginian has a suite of largely reddish-orange paintings on view at CMoFA that depict musicians, mostly classical performers. The artist himself is an accomplished pianist and years ago was in a band: “We were the Armenian Beatles,” he says, playing Beatles covers but also originals.
What Zanginian realized was that one can’t devote oneself unstintingly to two great loves. “Either you’re a painter or you’re a musician” – they both require long hours so that one doesn’t lose the touch, or the fire. Zanginian understood that he’d always been a painter, and thus this was what he’d have to focus on.
His influences include the Russians Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov, who have their equivalent in the better-known (for American audiences) John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase. Their work reflects an era of noble portraiture.
Zanginian says he wants his work to stay simple, to focus on the composition and the main impression he wants it to generate. That’s what he’s done with his paintings of musicians in the heat of performance, but he’s also been able to convey the energy of their playing: It seems to radiate from their hands, bodies, instruments, and for a moment we seem to be in the sound itself as well as in the picture. Not to mention that the work itself is masterfully rendered.
The Spring Exhibition show is “quieter” than others in the area, offering the viewer a mature, stable, and unhurried art with grace and a sense of gravity, even in the more playful subjects. These are accomplished artists who have found their métier, and the others, not mentioned above, include Galust Berian, Nancy Crookston, Hollis Dunlap, Millie Greene, Terry Miura, Gregory Packard, Derek Penix, and Max Turner.
If you go
What: Opening reception for “Spring Exhibition”
When: 6 to 9 p.m., April 12
Where: California Museum of Fine Art
1421 Marcellina Ave., Torrance
More info: (323) 908-8909 or californiamuseumoffineart.com