Bright colors and vividly rendered figures pop out from dozens of paintings by artists from the Splendor Device collective; they will fill every wall at Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow Gallery in Laguna Beach for the rest of the month.
No two paintings from the all-woman collective are similar in form or content, but they all share a common popular sensibility. People watched Saturday as an artist worked on a live painting of a model during the show's opening. A sculpture of a woman’s head sat near the punch bowl.
Splendor Device opened its exhibition, "This Wild Abyss" March 2, with an assemblage of realistic, surreal and sometimes disturbing images that riff on a literary prompt from the collective’s founder. The work is an exploration of the epic poem Paradise Lost and some more modern fiction, an attempt to demonstrate that lofty concepts can be conveyed in an accessible manner, with brightly colored illustrations and figures.
Splendor Device consists of more than 70 artists worldwide and is featuring 18 members’ pieces in the show until March 30.
Opportunities for Women
Splendor Device was founded in June 2012 by Kelly Castillo, a 32-year-old artist, arts activist, owner of Rothick Art Haus in Anaheim and founder of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School at her gallery.
She explained that the collective’s goal was to provide feature artists and emerging artists chances to show their work through live art exhibitions, monthly meetings and group travel adventures.
The group began with feature artists only, professional women with gallery experience, and then expanded to include local women. Women ages 20-40 are encouraged to participate in either visual art or in the performance aspect: there are belly dancers, decorators, costume designers, musicians, models and even a stilt walker.
“I needed an army, really, of girls that do live art, girls that pose,” Castillo said.
This female collective is part of the lowbrow school, also known as pop surrealism. Pop surrealism found its roots in Los Angeles in the late 1970s; a mix of the underground comix world, punk music, hot-rod street culture and other subcultures.
Those in the art movement oppose highbrow art, which they say connotes cultural and intellectual elitism.
Castillo prefers to call Splendor Device’s brand of expression "new brow" art in an attempt to transition away from the term "lowbrow." She calls the collective a group of pop surreal illustrative artists.
Splendor Device is achieving more and more recognition in the art world; artist Tatian Suarez of Splendor Device has been featured in Juxtapoz, one of the pop surrealism movement’s premiere magazines.
Splendor Device puts together both curated shows where a select number are chosen to submit their work and shows involving everyone that feature fine art, photography, illustration, graphic design, fashion and beyond.
“Women create, they do art on a hobby-based level but they don’t do it as a profession, whereas men are focused creatures and women are very social creatures,” Castillo said. “We wanted it to be a group that helped elevate women into a more professional status.”
Castillo has been professionally showing her artwork for three and a half years now and paints primarily in acrylic.
"This Wilde Abyss"
The Laguna Beach exhibition explores religious themes in literature and culture throughout the last several hundred years.
The current exhibition’s theme explores the relationship between 17th-century playwright John Milton’s classic Paradise Lost, and mid-20th-century author Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy. Pullman is also known for writing a fictionalized biography of Jesus Christ.
Pullman has faced controversy as a result of publishing the series; he has been called anti-Christian by some Christian sects, whereas Milton crafted his work firmly within the religious tradition of his time.
Splendor Device used the following passage in Paradise Lost as a starting point for their artwork, the prompt for the show’s artists to follow:
Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
Confus'dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look'd a while,
Pondering his Voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
The Pullman trilogy is especially interesting to them as well, as the protagonist of the story is a young female adventurer whose travels through parallel universes allude to questions of physics, philosophy and theology. While new worlds are being created around her, she navigates the undulating landscape between good and evil, each chapter more clearly demonstrating the connection Pullman seeks to make with themes in Paradise Lost.
Where Art Meets Science
Full-time artist Cody Raiza of Splendor Device met Castillo at Rothick Art Haus through Dr. Sketchy’s three years ago. She showed her art in a gallery for the first time there.
Originally from the Dallas, Texas area, the 26-year-old lives in Anaheim just down the street from Castillo. She works primarily in oil on canvas or panels but occasionally does sculpture and 3-D art as well.
She said the pop surrealism/lowbrow art movement doesn’t receive the same kind of derision it once did from the traditional arts community, but it still remains substantially an underground artform.
“[Pop surrealism] is interesting because it’s still very new in the art community,” Raiza said. “The people who respond to this realm of artwork ... the pop surrealism world isn’t necessarily frowned upon but not everybody knows about it.
“If you’re outside the circle, maybe you haven’t heard of all of the artists—they really draw people in.”
In addition to her art, Raiza takes an avid interest in science. She studies neuroscience and biology at Fullerton College and is working on an illustrated art book about art and the brain.
Raiza enjoys combining elements of science in her pieces. She created a piece for Splendor Device’s Laguna Beach exhibition titled "Wilde Abyss," which came about through a combination of two photos she digitally manipulated. The photos are of a freeze-dried peacock mantis shrimp specimen and some pet cockroaches.
She referred to her piece as “some kind of creator holding its beautiful, intricate creation.”
Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow Gallery was opened by curator and owner Torrey Cook in April 2010 and is inspired by free thinking people who are working hard to make life visual and without bounds.
Not only does it provide a location for artists to show their work, but it focuses on media outreach from companies, galleries and skateboard and snowboard shops alike.
“I had been doing some traveling pop art shows for years,” Cook said, explaining her decision to open the gallery. “I really thought a brick and mortar space to work in with the walls and the lighting would be a good next chapter.”
Splendor Device also plans to do an exhibition in Long Beach called "Sleeping With the Fishes" but is unsure about the venue and when they will show.
Castillo says that instead of doing a literary theme they will do a nautically based show that is “more of a funny, cliché” rather than “something high end” like the "Wilde Abyss" show’s theme.
"This Wilde Abyss" at Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow is free and open to the public. Works are for sale. Gallery hours: Fri.-Sun., noon to 6 p.m.