Brightly colored stripes, mixed with sharply contrasting images of waves, rocky, coastal formations and other beach attractions, are the focus of artist Christopher Herren’s exhibit “Mal-i-boo-tay” on display in the University of La Verne’s Harris Gallery. An opening reception was held Tuesday night.
Herren said the exhibit was inspired by a day-long visit to Malibu at a beach so tucked away in peaceful oblivion that only locals knew of its whereabouts and that interpreting the meaning of the stripes throughout his work was on par with absorbing beach scenery from both sharp and fuzzy perspectives.
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“When you’re walking down the beach, you have two choices; focusing or looking far off into the distance,” Herren said. “If you’re looking far off into the distance, all you see are three horizontal bands; the sky, the ocean, and the sand.”
Dion Johnson, art studio manager, said Herren’s artwork was a combination of paintings and installation art, which involves changing the gallery space by producing background art in addition to the canvases on display.
“In Chris’ case, he will often paint temporary murals and/or wall drawings to accompany a body of paintings,” Johnson said.
Johnson also cited Herren’s ability to fluctuate between modernism and traditionalism, while incorporating elements of the skateboarding and hip-hop cultures, as one of his standout artistic qualities.
“He is an innovative painter who has crafted his own style through his tradition of painting art historically and the combination of tagger and skateboarder signage and graphics,” Johnson said. “It’s a fresh outlook that is both familiar and bizarre.”
Herren also said his roots as a graffiti artist and skateboarder were continually, if subtly, present in his work and that the title of the exhibit was his own reference to pop culture and a nod towards his interest in “turn-tableism,” among other things.
“It’s funked-out Malibu,” Herren said. “I know how to pull it out, because I used to be exposed to this information as a skateboarder and graffiti artist. It’s like having an accent. Maybe you don’t keep the accent, but how long does it take before it’s gone? That influence is definitely present.”
Herren also said painting “Royal Lace,” a landscape abstraction of blue, green, brown and tide white waves complete with a resin gloss, struck a particular chord for him, as the creative process was music to his ears.
“I had to make a 46-inch stencil for that painting and interesting moments occurred,” Herren said. “(Working on it) created a certain rhythm that completely emulated the sound of a wave rolling in. I felt like I was in a flow; a part of a natural force just moving along.”
Herren, originally from New Orleans, now lives and works in Atlanta at a reincarnated version of Ballroom Studios. He said the original building, which once featured an actual ballroom and served as a men’s lodge during the Prohibition era, was turned into “office space” by developers, but salvaged remnants can be found in his work; labeled shelves that used to display old liquor bottles now support the canvases in the exhibit.
“We dismantled everything we could take,” Herren said. “I like that kind of activity; the materials have found an extended life.”
“If you can’t see the skateboarder or tagger influences, you can definitely see the Ballroom influences,” Herren jokingly added. “Just turn the paintings around.”
Ruth Trotter, art department chairwoman, organized the exhibition and said she was pleased with the turnout, as Herren had done everything possible to make himself and his artwork accessible to students.
“Christopher obviously worked really hard on these paintings and it’s a really strong body of work,” Trotter said. “He has been really available to talk with students, and his work deals with what they are grappling with as artists today.”
Students found the constant presence of the stripes, which in different works represent either the horizon, the ocean, the sand, a combination of the three, or stood alone, intriguing.
“I love all the lines,” Kelly Rivas, a freshman art major, said. “When you’re up close you can’t see anything, but when you’re far away, they come together to make up the whole picture.”
Alex Martinez, a junior liberal arts major, also appreciated the overall effect of stripes in the exhibit.
“It’s a nice blend, and it kind of has a natural aspect to it with the rocks, the beach and the implication of shore lines,” Martinez said. “You can see how the colors change and go from water into the horizon.”
“Mal-i-boo-tay” will be on display in the Harris Gallery until May 27.
Kady Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.