Opening October 25, 2011
During Andy Wing’s nearly five decades (1957-2004) living and painting in Laguna Beach, he built a reputation as a notorious character who would never compromise his art in favor of commercial interests. At 6’ 5” tall, with a wiry frame, bushy hair and beard, as well as enormous hands and feet, he endeared (and sometimes alienated) himself to the town’s many artists and art lovers. They still talk about his endless creativity, spirituality, love of nature, sense of humor, and particularly about his strong, left-leaning political, social and environmental opinions. Through his public writings and political activism, he helped save his bucolic community from encroaching development.
Wing, who made many thousands of artworks, exhibited at Laguna’s Festival of the Arts, at the Laguna Art Museum (serving on both venues’ boards), and in galleries in Laguna and in greater Orange and Los Angeles Counties. Yet his pieces were seldom shown beyond these environs. With the advent of Pacific Standard Time, Miriam Smith of Art Resource Group seized the opportunity in an effort to revive interest in the late artist.
With the help of his many friends and of Wing’s devoted sister, Nancy Wing, Smith surveyed his artworks stored at his former Laguna Canyon cottage. That home is today a work of art itself with its brightly colored mosaic tiles, designed to express I Ching divinations and acrylic paint glazed windows that look like stained glass. Smith also delved into his history and personal writings about life, art and spiritually to produce a comprehensive catalog documenting his artistic legacy, and especially his unusual techniques of creating sculptures and shaped paintings.
Wing dedicated his central aesthetic purpose to immersing his most personal self in the creative process and merging both with nature. Smith writes in the catalog, “Andy Wing: Works from 1954-1997,” “His art, his causes, his friends and his lifestyle were at once reflections of him and the agents that shaped him as an artist and a person … allowing every aspect of his being, the wind, and the sun to exert an influence on the paint as it expanded onto his visceral compositions.” At Wing’s March, 2004 memorial service, Bolton Colburn, former Laguna Art Museum director, remarked, “The only voice he consistently listened to was that of nature.”
The sixteen works in the exhibition, from 14-inch diameter to 91-inch wide shaped canvasses and a few sculptures, are examples of what the artist called “lyric expressionism.” (Wing borrowed this term from musician Béla Bartók.) Though clearly related to and influenced by abstract expressionism, the show traces how he went beyond this style with his intuitive involvement of body and spirit. Using large amounts of paints in pastels and earth tones, colors echoing the southwestern art he admired as a young man, he built fluid paintings and sculptures. These take on organic, biomorphic shapes and fields, with no figuration, landscape or horizon lines.
Working outdoors, Wing often incorporated the leaves, dirt and branches that fell onto the canvasses - “gifts” from his Henri Rousseau-style garden, fertilized with organic compost. In his “Environmental Paintings and Murals” (1959-1986), working without brushes, he threw paint and sometimes his body onto the canvasses he had hung from Eucalyptus trees. To these, he added plaster for depth and shape, fiberglass dust, tiles, marbles, dice, bits of mirrors, pottery shards, woods chips and more. While these additions add assemblage aspects to the works, Wing’s true intention was, “… directed by a need to repurpose all things lost in nature and discarded by society, with ingenuity and a respect for the salience of things,” as Carol Ann Klonarides asserts in the catalog. In fact, he created his own frames and wooden matting, often from recycled materials scavenged from construction sites.
Wing incorporated the newest artistic techniques and materials of the sixties and seventies, including plastics and acrylic resin/polymer emulsion paint (also used by Southern California Light and Space artists), making hybrids of paintings and sculptures that often take on semi-transparent finishes from the resins. He researched Titian and the Venetian masters’ use of grounds and glazes, and collected his own pigment powders from around the world.
While each Wing artwork in this exhibition is distinctive with its own coloration, theme, shape and emphasis, the show is cohesive. Every piece flows to the next. “Tondi,” three circles within an iconic religious frame, moves us to “For Easter,” with Native American coloration on a diamond shapes canvas. “The In House Fortune Wheel,” a shaped canvas molded from a large wheel on the back of the canvas, emphasizes deep earth tones, which complements “Pilar,” a sculptural piece made from the scavenged end pieces of surfboards. This piece in turn echoes “Love Chips,” made with wood chips arranged in a pattern reminiscent of a heart.
While Wing has been called an “artist’s artist,” the prism through which he created was his deeply rooted spirituality and reverence for nature. He wrote in his journals: “The Joy of Man in Nature / The mysteries of life / And the eternal river / The freedom of expression / The bite, which is creativity / Of metaphor and paint / And the meaning which is poetry.”
Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2011