State Touted for Liberating Effect on Art

January 23, 1985|PENELOPE MOFFET

By the year 2000, hats will once again be in vogue, according to Philip Garner, but hatracks may not be popular. So Garner has designed a topless headpiece whose back can be unsnapped and refastened about one's neck, making a rather prominent collar. Garner calls this the "hat with its own hatrack."

Then there's the "rotary consciousness valve," a red vinyl cap with a brim and earflaps. Wear it in the usual way, with the flaps down, and one can see but not hear; rotate it one-quarter and one eye and one ear are exposed; turn it to the backwards position and neither vision nor hearing is possible. Garner calls this a "thinking cap, a way of controlling sensory input" to allow concentration. A "cape-coat" designed not to interfere with flapping arms (people will be flying by the 21st Century, Garner asserts), lensless "unglasses" designed in odd shapes, "woofers" (radios dogs can wear on outings) and "cabbage patch doll shooting galleries" are all part of Garner's vision of the future.

Last Saturday the Los Angeles author shared these and many other tongue-in-cheek ideas with a gathering of about 130 designers, graphic artists, advertising executives, photographers and writers at UC Irvine. Garner was the keynote speaker for "California Style," a seminar sponsored by Art Direction and Design in Orange County (ADDOC), a 6-year-old countywide network of communications industry professionals.

Garner, who lives in Hollywood, espouses "the philosophy of materialism" and calls himself "kind of a scrambled existentialist" who landed in California 21 years ago. He has assembled his wacky ideas into two books, the "Better Living Catalog" and "Utopia or Bust: Products for the Perfect World," which he has discussed on both the "Merv Griffin Show" and the "Tonight Show." "Part of my success here (in California) is that I'm continually disoriented," the full-time creator of humorous inventions and books told the Irvine audience. "I don't think of this as home. I consider myself basically stuck here."

Since coming to Los Angeles, however, the Illinois native has been doing his best to contribute to the California life style of "American ingenuity gone wild. The way you leave your mark out here is to create a fad," he said. In his talk, Garner seemed to laud life styles and businesses that specialize in illusion. Here, "the dream is the whole thing," even though many California immigrants have discovered that "the pot of gold (has been) turned into a trash bag full of aluminum beer cans," he said.

Saturday's program was designed to present nationally known artists to ADDOC members and to fill the local professionals in on national trends in their fields, according to seminar organizers. The program was also meant to address the question of why Southern California generates high quality commercial art. However, Garner and others barely touched on that question in lectures and panel discussions throughout the day.

When the subject of creativity's cause did come up, one word often mentioned by speakers and conference organizers alike was "freedom." Members of a morning panel of illustrators said the no-holds-barred Southern California life style liberated them in their work. Surrealist photographer Jayme Odgers, who lives in Los Angeles, preceded an afternoon slide show set to music with such comments as, "California style to me is the freedom. It's probably as close to paradise as you can get and still do your work." And, he added, "If you could take the earth, put it on its side and shake it, everything loose would fall into L.A."

Dean Gerrie, ADDOC president and creative director of the Tustin-based Guzman/Gerrie advertising firm, also said that "freedom, in Southern California, both the real level and what they (commercial artists) feel they have, has a lot to do with the way they do their work . . . . And there are so many marketing outlets out here. You're not going to get that in Phoenix."

'A Touchy Subject'

California style "is a touchy subject for artists," said Kevin McCarthy, a member of the ADDOC board of directors and the associate creative director of Reiser Williams deYong Inc., a large advertising agency in Irvine. "Lots of people don't like to be labeled (as being California artists). Everybody hinted that it's just the lack of tradition, the eclecticism" in California that prompts good creative work, he said. "I think it's the environment, the freedom here." But a few people who were invited to speak declined, said McCarthy, because they were unwilling to be called "California artists."

Echoes of that attitude could be heard in Odgers' comments before he exhibited his photographs. "I think I'm one of the most un-California people I can imagine," he said before showing slides shot in the desert and by the ocean, as well as in interior settings. "I'm supposed to be 'Mr. California' to a whole bunch of people on the East Coast, and I don't know what it (the California look in photographs) is about."

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