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ORANGE COUNTY STYLE : Leading lights in a brightening art environment

October 04, 1987|PAMELA MARIN | Marin is a free-lance writer based in New port Beach

Out of the fray. In hiding. In isolation.

\o7 Local artists use these words to describe how it feels to live an hour south of Los Angeles, one of the world's largest art markets.

Orange County is an ideal place to concentrate on work, they say--lots of room, few pressures, no social swirl. Yet the seclusion that fosters artistic growth is equal parts asset and liability. When their thoughts turn from creativity to career, from making art to making money, brighter lights beckon.

While Orange County has yet to boast a gallery system that can support local talent, that hasn't stopped important artists from choosing to live and work here. John Paul Jones, one of the foremost printmakers of the '60s, now sculpts abstract, minimalist geometric sculpture here. Tony DeLap, another prominent minimalist sculptor, also is based here. Chris Burden, internationally recognized for his performance art, is a former UCI art student.

The local art scene is growing and maturing, according to local museum curators, collectors, art instructors and gallery owners. The country is home to an increasingly sophisticated Newport Harbor Art Museum and the growing art departments of UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and the community colleges. Art is gracing more and more public places, notably the Isamu Noguchi sculpture garden, "California Scenario," in Costa Mesa.

Here we present four artist who have grown up in Orange County and chosen to stay. Their work reflects a range of aesthetics, but their aspirations are the same: To question assumptions and give shape to dreams.

Leading lights in a brightening art environment

Three years ago, Julie Medwedeff was living in her pickup truck, eating hot-dog dinners and painting at the UC Irvine studios at night. "When you sink to that level," she says, "you get a whole new perspective on the homeless. Everything is a struggle."

Medwedeff's 27 years have been marked by emotional and financial struggles--contributing to an ironic world view obvious in her conversation and her art. Born in Long Beach and reared in Silverado Canyon, Medwedeff finished high school without much thought of her future and went to work in a grocery store. "That got tiring, so my mom said, 'Why don't you go to secretarial school?"' The fledgling artist brightens. "I thought, 'You know, that's a great idea! Then I'll be able to sit down on the job.' I finished secretarial school in six months and went out into the glamorous business world." The birth of a son, Anthony, eight years ago, interrupted Medwedeff's secretarial career and brought introspection along with the responsibilities of unwed motherhood. "Up until that point, I think I bought the Prince Charming story," she says. "I had this idea that everything you want you're going to find wrapped up in one person. After Anthony's father left, I had to pick up the pieces and figure out what I wanted. I realized I had to find what I needed within myself."

What she found were math skills--last month Medwedeff debuted as a ninth-grade math teacher at Bethune Junior High in Los Angeles--and artistic talent. Several of her paintings are included in an exhibition currently at UCI's Fine Arts Gallery, which was organized by Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions to scout new talent.

"When I'm working, it's like I'm in a dream state," Medwedeff says. "You know how sometimes you have real mundane dreams, and sometimes all these psychological, metaphysical things come up? Before I paint, I look at my sketches and other images I've taken from magazines or wherever, so I've got all this source material in my brain. Then I stand in front of the canvas and just kind of spit it out, all sorts of hideous stuff . . . "

"My paintings," says Emigdio Vasquez, choosing his words judiciously, "represent a part of Orange County that many here perhaps are not aware of. They are more or less documentations of life in the barrio, the everyday scenes of working-class Chicanos."

Many here may be less than well-informed about barrio life, but most have seen, perhaps without knowing it, the work of Emigdio Vasquez. The 48-year-old painter, artist-in-residence at Santa Ana's Bowers Museum, is a noted local muralist. Vasquez's everyday scenes--rendered larger than life--are on view at such sites as Santa Ana Memorial Park, the Friendly Center in the City of Orange and Anaheim's City Hall.

Son of a migrant copper miner from the Mexican state of Jalisco, the Arizona-born Vasquez has lived in Orange County since he was 3, painted since he was 15 and seen his work exhibited throughout California and as far afield as Mexico City and the U.S. Cultural Center in West Berlin. When he is not painting murals or teaching at Rancho Santiago College and Bowers Museum, the divorced father of six works at an easel in his cramped bedroom in Orange, producing street scenes and portraits. "Slices of life," he calls them.

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