Mixed-media sculptor-installation artist James Van Arsdale’s latest exhibit, “Everything You Hear is True,” is on view through July 2 at Left Coast Books. We peeked in on the gallery opening on Friday.
James is one of the local artists who share “Cannon Studio” in Old Town Goleta. His art reflects the same mixing of cultures his childhood did; son of a military officer, James still grew up immersed in the sixties counterculture. His work is a mix of pop and psychedelic art with a serious commentary on the permeation of violence and military in our modern culture. Instead of focusing on one medium to express his thoughts, James explains that he doesn’t like to be limited but instead use whatever media is needed to complete the project and get the idea across.
If you’ve never been to Left Coast Books, stop by; with the feeling of a warehouse of books, it’s a great location for this exhibit. On entering the gallery, the first piece you’ll walk up to is probably the Interplanetary Recording Device (2011). Based on a machine used to communicate with those who have moved beyond this world, this piece’s candy green and smooth surfaces contrast with its dark purpose.
Also included in the exhibit is Wounded Battleship (Armada) (2011). Inspired by the tenth anniversary of the USS Cole incident, in which a US navy vessel was attacked in a Yemeni port, the piece consists of a wooden sea covered with giant monopoly battleships, each with a bite taken out of its side. James explained that the fleet of toy ships symbolizes both strength as well as weakness.
On an adjacent wall, my favorite part of the exhibit is displayed. Three Ray Guns (2011) hang about a foot off the wall, their bright colors sharply contrasted by the stark white behind them, and lit to perfection so that the multiple shadows give you the impression of an army of guns. Meant to be “retro yet futuristic,” James based the guns off 1950’s craft projects, with the bright colors and wacky patterns meant to remind one of “candy and Disneyland.”
Opposite the Ray Guns, two black and white images are framed in bleak black and positioned within yet another frame of bright colored construction paper, adding just enough of that fun retro feel. Rapid-Fire Cigarette Machine (2009), James explained to me, is based on a real machine that helps quickly hand-roll cigarettes. It’s his way of making fun of both the smokers and the non-smokers, he explained with a smile. The second image, If Wal-Mart Comes to Town (2009), has a very comic book feel to it, which is ironic, since James took the idea from an old army handbook.
Finally, keep an eye out for The Observation (2011). Hidden up in a corner, this piece questions who is looking at whom. A simple cut out from a piece of felt, the image is still very effective in its purpose.
This exhibit perfectly blends fun aesthetics and humorous ideas with some serious contemporary concerns. So take a walk over, get a glimpse of some stimulating art, and check out a book or two while you’re at it.