Cathy Breslaw's Installation

Cathy Breslaw's Installation
Cathy Breslaw's Installation:Dreamscape

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

BC Space's Mark Chamberlain Talks About His Gallery, Art, Activism and Life

Mark Chamberlain: Interview
Mark Chamberlain (2010)
By Cathy Breslaw

Mark Chamberlain was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa near the banks of the Mississippi River. He was one of four siblings and his father was sole proprietor of an insurance business. His earliest dreams were of being a cowboy.  Having contracted polio at ten years of age, he had to miss all of 5th grade but his time was filled with reading adventure stories including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. When he recovered from polio, he convinced his father to buy him a flat boat and  Chamberlain spent his summers on the river meeting fishermen and cottage dwellers –seeking to live out some of the stories he read in books.  He calls himself,  “an unreformed, unrepentant river rat,"  since high school he had a dream of navigating a boat from the most northern point of the Mississippi down to the southern most point, exploring all the smaller lakes, tributaries and streams along the way.  In 2000, Chamberlain’s vision was actualized when he purchased a River Queen boat, 12 feet by 28 feet - every summer he returns to Iowa for several weeks to continue his journey down the Mississippi, which is documented through his photography, video and notes about life on the river.

Chamberlain’s interest in art and photography began in high school where he picked up skills in drafting, and learning architectural drawing in pen and ink – he says “I embraced all the mechanical and technical skills and saw the camera as another mechanical piece of equipment to learn”. He went on to graduate with a BA degree in Political Science and an MBA in Operations Research from the University of Iowa. At that point the Vietnam War was raging and he was drafted into the army where he says, “my real education began." He was being trained for Long Range Reconnaissance which was a highly dangerous job but through a series of unlikely coincidences, the base commander who knew him, helped divert his orders for Vietnam, and within hours Chamberlain’s life was set to take another turn.

Chamberlain’s new orders were to be stationed in Korea. While there, he took classes in Korean and gained a basic proficiency in reading and speaking the language. He also picked up the camera again as the base had an arts and crafts program for soldiers and families. He says the camera was both his “salvation and source of curiosity”. When on leave from the base, armed with his knowledge of Korean and his camera, Chamberlain explored the towns and countryside and documented them through his black and white photographs. His photography teacher on base became his mentor and critiqued his photographs and taught him a lot about photography including darkroom techniques.

When Chamberlain finished his stint in the army, he returned home to Iowa – his father had passed away, and the family business he thought he’d join had been sold. A friend from the base in Korea was moving to Los Angeles to open a gallery and having nothing to hold him back, Chamberlain packed up his MG Midget and joined  his friend in LA. After a year, he left LA and moved to Laguna Beach to be near his sister and brother in law.  While working a combination of photography jobs, house painting and  light construction, he happened upon the commercial space  which would eventually become BC Space.  While on an assignment to curate a photography show for the Festival of Arts, he met Jerry Burchfield, his eventual friend and partner at BC Space.

On April 1st, 1973, two kindred spirits became partners and opened up their photography gallery and commercial lab. It started out as a small space paying only $150 month rent, no lease save a handshake with the landlord’s father.  They tore down walls and added adjacent spaces. That was 41 years ago.  The original vision for BC Space was to entertain debates about contemporary art and photography and to focus on political, social and environmental issues no matter its format – including painting, installation, video and performance. Chamberlain calls it a time of “environmental awakening” for him and he commented that readings from Buckminster Fuller had a large impact on his thought process.

Chamberlain’s partnership and collaboration with Jerry Burchfield lasted for 14 years during which time they shared work on photographic shoots, lab work and provided printing services to regional museums, colleges, universities, galleries and collectors. These services have generally supported the art and photography exhibitions at the gallery which from the start did not have a particular goal of supporting itself from these shows.  Chamberlain commented, “we wanted to show what needs to be shown, not necessarily what will sell.”

Chamberlain and Burchfield embarked on several regional environmental projects during their collaboration.  It began with The "Laguna Canyon Project", a photographic documentation of Laguna Canyon Road, the main access route from the Santa Ana freeway to the Pacific Ocean. Documenting changes over 30 years, they wanted to raise awareness of the importance of the land while developers were viewing it as ripe for building. In addition to photography, they added video, sculpture, performance, installations, and related events to express their concerns, which were exhibited at the gallery.

“The Tell” was a photomural created as part of the "Laguna Canyon Project". This 636 foot long photographic mural was made up of thousands of photos – hundreds of supporters helped create this portion of the project, which was on view on location, until 1993 when fires destroyed a good portion of the mural. The installation received national media attention from CNN, Life Magazine and the Los Angeles Times and helped raise awareness and aided in the process of a public purchase of the land for future preservation.

Another collaboration of Chamberlain and Burchfield was "The Legacy Project" and "The Great Picture" which involved the closing of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and the future of the base’s 4700 undeveloped acres in Irvine. Decommissioned in 1993, and for the following 10 years, there was debate about the land’s future use and in 2005, it was decided to transform the land into public parkland. The collaborators had been photographing the base since 2002 and in 2005 created “The Legacy Project” with fellow photographers with the goal to be documentation of the transformation of the base into a park and to follow it for ten years. Project members collected thousands of images of the buildings, runways, and adjacent mountain ranges - what was left of ‘life’ on the base, which had been occupied since the 1940’s. The largest artwork and installation from this venture was “The Great Picture” – project members and hundreds of volunteers, converted a jet maintenance hanger into a giant Camera obscura.  Through a 35 minute exposure, through a 6 millimeter pinhole lens onto light sensitive muslin canvas, a black and white negative image was processed in an Olympic sized pool “developing tray”. The result was a gelatin silver photographic print of the control tower structures, tarmac and San Joaquin Hills.  The resulting art piece has been exhibited at several colleges and universities and the camera is certified in the Guinness Book of World Records  as being the largest camera ever recorded.

Chamberlain views himself as primarily a self taught photographer/artist, educator, curator and writer.  I would also add philosopher, thinker and dreamer who has the distinction of making things happen – he not only wants to make a difference in the world, he does.  Unfortunately his friend and collaborator Jerry Burchfield passed away in 2009 but Chamberlain continues to challenge our thinking at BC Space, probably the longest running photographic gallery in the country. Exhibitions like “Capitol Crimes” (2012) promote his social activism Chamberlain wants to share with the community. We can all look forward to the art/photography/documentation resulting from Chamberlain’s "River Tales Project" as he continues his navigations down the 2000 miles of the Mississippi River.

Als         On March 21st, for this year's Vernal Equinox, from 6-9 PM, BC Space will be showing the film
I             Inequality For All featuring former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich. For this event they are collaborating with
 with      the Laguna Beach Film Society and will offer a healthy meal and a meaningful movie with kindred spirits.

  "S        "Space" is limited and there will be a "suggested donation" for this event, so advance reservation is recommended. 

Folks interested in learning more about the gallery and its projects can purchase the book:

Mything in Action: BC Space
Grand Central Press  2013


Jerry Burchfield(left) and Mark Chamberlain(right)
Laguna Canyon Project  (1980)

"The Tell" photomural  1989  Laguna Canyon Project

The Legacy Project: The Great Picture    (2006)

Power: Focus on Social and Environmental Issues, Exhibition at Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego

Review by Cathy Breslaw

“What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do”. This quote by Artistotle is placed in large letters on the wall at the beginning of the exhibition at MOPA.  The title and theme of ‘power’ refers to the use of photography as an instrument to shed light on important global social and environmental issues.  Based on Prix Pictet, an annual juried prize – has established itself as the world’s leading prize in photography and sustainability. It chose “power” as the subject of this year’s exhibition – photography professionals from around the world nominated 650 photographers from 76 countries and the list was whittled down to 12 for this exhibition. Guy Tillim, a South African photojournalist, exhibits black and white  archival pigment prints taken in 2006 during the weeks of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s first general election since the 1990’s. These images mirror the political wasteland and unrest resulting from the rivalry of the two presidential candidates at that time.  Jacqueline Hassink, a photographer from the Netherlands presenta images from her series “Arab Domains”, chromogenic prints made of the dining rooms and boardrooms of 36 Arab women business leaders from 18 Arab countries.  Hassink uses the ‘table’, in this case, a symbol for economic power, to shed light into the lives of these highly successful women in cultures traditionally lacking in ‘powerful’ women. French photographer Philippe Chancel documents the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and ensuing nuclear reactor incident in northern Japan in “Datazone”, archival inkjet prints revealing the power of natural disasters.  Photographer Edmund Clark explores the spaces and objects of power and control  of incarceration at Guantanamo. Other photographers explore subjects of war, oil spills, impact of deforestation in the northwestern U.S. and the social realities of life in urban areas.
Congo Democratic      Guy Tillim     archival pigment print

California Fibers Exhibition, Contemporary Works, Soka University, Aliso Viejo, California

Review by Cathy Breslaw

Vortex    Susan Henry   recycled mens wool trousers

 This comprehensive exhibition from California Fibers, a statewide organization, comprises 66 works from 22 southern California artists. The works speak both of tradition and wide-ranging contemporary artistic exploration. The works include weaving, basketry, sculpture, quilting, embroidery, felting, surface design, knitting, crochet, wearables and mixed media. At first glance we may be taken in by memories of childhood crafts and materials, but a closer look reveals not only well honed skill, but conceptual and narrative statements that refer to home, nature and contemporary issues. Michael Rohde’s hand dyed wool and natural dyes use geometry and color to weave beautifully crafted tapestries. Julie Kornblum uses the traditions of basket-making and weaving to create patterned colorful wall works that include both yarns and recycled plastic bags.  An 8 foot wide, 15 foot long installation work called “Alterpiece” by Lynne Hodgeman uses crocheted light brown rayon thread to create an ephemeral work that has both a rhythmic and spiritual feel in its arrangement on the wall.  Charlotte Bird’s ‘Small Wonders’, a large format quilt made of hand dyed commercial cotton, silk, polyester thread and machine stitched embroidery forms a circular pattern made up of varying sized circles and within those are organic shapes and patterns of colorfully stitched organic images.  Susan Henry’s ‘Vortex’ , is made up of numerous triangular-shaped hand cut pieces of recycled men’s wool trousers to create a compelling wall work.  These and many more works express the broad-ranging content and materials and increasingly expanded view of what comprises contemporary fiber.

Cheech Marin Art Collection: "Chicanitas": Small Paintings at MOCA San Diego, downtown

Review by Cathy Breslaw
Cheech Marin, who is known as a comedian, has been an avid collector of Chicano art for 25 years. He has built a renowned collection that has travelled across the United States in several venues. This exhibition presents paintings by Chicano artists, including established figures such as John Valadez, Leo Limón, and Patssi Valdez, as well as younger emerging artists such as Jari “Werc” Álvarez, Ana Teresa Fernández, and Sonia Romero. Each of the works in the exhibition are approximately 16 inches or smaller, and depict subjects including familiar landscapes, notions of cultural heritage, familial relationships, and social community. In Chicanitas, Marin has drawn together a rich variety of works that express the complex texture of the Chicano experience.  This combination of figurative and landscape works form a kind of expressive realism – depicting a musical rhythm, vibrancy of spirit and color, depth and often straightforward simplicity of day to day life. There is a ten minute video accompanying this exhibition which is an important contribution to this show because of Cheech Marin’s ebulllience and passion in talking about his collection – he says “I had an immediate and visceral reaction to these paintings”. He likes them because “they are self contained and draw you in”.  It is interesting to note that some of the works in this exhibition are painted by artists who have never shown their work before this show.

 *Painting shown above: Sandy Rodriguez, Payasa, 1998, oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches. Collection of Cheech Marin. © Sandy Rodriguez 2013.

Friday, February 7, 2014

San Diego Art Collectors Talk About Collecting

This is the first in a series of articles I plan to do on collectors and collecting art. Stay posted, more to come!

The similarity among art collectors is simply this: They are all different. Over the years I have had opportunities to talk to art collectors – in galleries, at openings, at museums, and some in the course of purchasing my art pieces and in visiting their homes. Aside from the value of the art, there is one common distinction - their passion for the art they have acquired and the story they have to tell about it.  I was recently fortunate to have individual conversations with art collectors Robin Lipman, Paul Thomas and Debra McGinty-Poteet.

Robin Lipman’s collecting began in the 1970’s with a purchase of a $50.00 piece of art by an instructor at a college in Florida and has continued collecting on throughout the following years as a result of her extensive travels around the globe. Lipman relies on her instincts and love of particular art pieces as her guide. She says that though she has purchased from galleries, she has never sought art advice for collecting and does not collect for investment. She collects art pieces that span everything that is ‘red’, to objects that are tomatoes (going back to her roots of her father who farmed tomatoes) to recycled sculptures made from plastic bottles and paint, to sculpture, assemblage, tapestries, paintings both representational and abstract, Vargas girl calendars of the 1930’s, drawings by ‘outsider’ artists, to the work of regional and local artists. She has also had art built into the structure of her home, including mosaic and sculpture in her outdoor patio to a fireplace with a myriad of objects of varying sizes and shapes embedded into the concrete of the mantel. Lipman says that the commissioned works of portraits of herself and her personal items of significance are among her favorites in her collection. Lipman has created customized spaces and lighting in various areas of her home to accommodate specific works of art and extends work into all areas of her home including the bathrooms and laundry room.

Paul Thomas told me that while his parents had an interest in the arts – his mother was a pianist and father did drawings and made his own complicated Halloween masks, his own interest in art didn’t surface until college when he was exposed to art history. His first art purchase was of the poster Uncle Sam “I Want You” – he was drawn to illustrative representational work which, other than for one abstract sculpture, has followed him to this day, some 40 years of collecting later. For a long time he stuck to collecting posters which were affordable and easy to transport until he was more settled into a home. Thomas sites posters as his ‘gateway’ into collecting art. As the years went on, he began to buy paintings focused on the landscape, Plein Air, portraits and sculpture. His one rule was “buy the best you can afford”.  Thomas buys from galleries and dealers but depends on what he calls his ‘critical eye’ for good work and maintains that he has never bought for investment or profit but wanted work that was good quality. He feels he has an obligation and responsibility to protect each of his artworks by placing them in the proper lighting and dryness/humidity areas and framing everything with the highest quality materials. Thomas stresses the importance of cataloguing each piece of art with information about when and where it was purchased including receipts, and any repairs made. He feels there is also the responsibility of handing the art down to family members in the future. He believes that living with art is a privilege and states “Good art grows on you, and if it doesn’t, you should give it away or sell it.”

Debra McGinty-Poteet, along with her husband Larry Poteet, began collecting out of mutual emotional need. Debra describes art collecting as having started out as “art therapy” for she and Larry as a couple. Their first of three daughters was born with severe developmental delays. They decided to keep her at home which Poteet describes as having been a huge emotional drain on themselves and their relationship. Their weekend ‘respites’ where they had outside caregivers, afforded them time to get out of the house, and then living in Los Angeles, they began frequenting art museums and galleries.  As a young couple just beginning to collect art, a few galleries took them ‘under their wing’, carefully educating them about fine art, art history and what to look for in collecting artwork.  Along with developing this circle of friends in the art world, - ‘older’ folks who helped educate their ‘eye’,they did a lot of traveling to New York, Washington D.C., and  Europe for work and vacation.  Their first purchase were three small works on paper by Milton Avery. In collecting emerging artists, Poteet noted, it became an ‘intellectual guessing game’ of who would succeed. Their collected work spans international 20th century and contemporary artists with paintings, sculpture, works on paper, drawings, and assemblage. Their collection includes works on paper by Picasso, Matisse, Joan Mitchell, Sally Michael Avery,  and Antonio Tapias, and southern California notables including Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, and Tony DeLap. Debra and Larry Poteet have made friends with several of the artists they collect and believe strongly about showcasing artists they believe in as much as possible. They have been significantly involved in the San Diego Art Fair and collect the work of many local artists. As a couple, they sometimes have differing views of particular artists and their work, but Debra says it has sparked many healthy debates about art and they sometimes buy art independently that they respond to in some individual important way. When asked if she had advice for new collectors, Debra tells them to educate themselves about art – ‘don’t be lazy’ or depend on dealers or galleries to select art or artists to buy. Poteet also noted that while collecting can be a ‘wonderful adventure’, it is also a responsibility.

Robin Lipman, Paul Thomas and Debra and Larry Poteet have each been collecting for over 30 years. They each took differing paths in terms of why they collect, what they collect and their methods of collecting, however they are all remarkably similar in their commitment to the work they have collected - in terms of the responsibility of taking care of the work and in their passion for visual art and how it can enrich and change people’s lives.

From the collection of Debra and Larry Poteet:
*Questions about the Poteet collection can be directed to:

Marcus Ramirez   War   dyptich cam coloring of vinyl on aluminum and automotive paint, enamel on metal
Study of Byron    David Hockney     lithograph

Gathering Twiggs   Eugene Higgins   drypoint etching

From the collection of Robin Lipman:

Red Room      Grant Pecoff      acrylic painting

Tomatoes Don't Figure Into My Dietary Regimen More Than Normal