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IT'S A GAS GAS GAS : Neon Art in Cypress Exhibit Runs the Gamut From the Whimsical to the Outrageous

October 29, 1992|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lancer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

"It's not at all like Las Vegas," a student observed as she strolled through the neon art exhibit at Cypress College through Nov. 10. "It's not as tacky, and more fun. It's . . . it's . . . "

More like art?

"Yes, more like art."

Ah, sweet words to the ears of Betty Disney, the school Fine Arts Gallery director and curator of the show, "A Thousand Points of Light."

Disney, who brought together 19 pieces with the help of pioneering neon artist Lili Lakich, said the exhibit represents some of the best work being done by California artists and noted that the aforementioned student's reaction had not been atypical. "People enjoy neon because it's different," Disney said. "It has a quality that you can't really find anywhere else."

Lakich, the founder of the Museum of Neon Art in downtown Los Angeles, which opened in 1981, has been working with the colored gas for 27 years. She describes its attraction in almost mystical terms.

"The light is just gorgeous, the way it draws you in, all the colors and the way you can use them," she said. "To me, and to many artists who work in the medium, it has a spiritual resonance, a magical aspect.

"The way it glows is like an essence, a soul."

Be that as it may, the exhibit has some very pretty pieces, with all the luminous hues formed into unusual shapes, both literal and abstract. But the centerpiece, Lakich's "Fat Rat," is more political, giving impetus to the show's title evoking the George Bush catch-phrase.

"Fat Rat" is actually a swipe at the Walt Disney studio: Images of Mickey Mouse are interspersed with subversive symbols, including a neon swastika. Lakich said she wanted to condemn the Disney organization for "capitalistic and fascistic" tendencies.

Only a few of the other pieces have a political slant--which initially disappointed Betty Disney, who said she'd hoped more of the artists would have found opportunities in this election season. Still, once the art started coming in, Disney said she was pleased with its range and quality.

"This is a fair representation," she said, "of what neon has to offer."

After "Fat Rat," the most obviously political piece is William Shipman's "Nixon's the One," primarily sculptural, with a cadaverous form sitting in an old wheelchair. Two neon tubes join in an arch over the chair, which sports a "Nixon's The One" bumper-sticker from the 1972 presidential campaign.

Most of the works are more whimsical, such as Michael Flechtner's "Dinosaur Head," which greets visitors at the gallery entrance. The neon tubing creates a toylike image of a friendly beast, its mouth opening every time someone walks by.

Flechtner's humor shows up in two other pieces: "Seagoat," depicting a shark that has swallowed a van, an airplane and a boom box; and "Cat & Mouse (Say Cheese!)," which features a feline working away merrily at a computer.

Less literal is Larry Albright's group of four sculptures that can only be described as brilliantly lighted gizmos. They look like machinery from another era, but whose only practical application is as visual stimulation.

Candice Gawne's three creations are just as fanciful. She links sculptural features (molds of faces caught in branches and other natural elements) with flowing tubes of neon. "Dream Dance" catches the eye, especially in the way Gawne has manipulated the neon to move in small puffs through the tube, like pearls on a chain.

What: "A Thousand Points of Light," a neon art exhibit.

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Nov. 10.

Where: The Cypress College Fine Arts Gallery, 9200 Valley View St., Cypress.

Whereabouts: Take the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway to Lincoln Avenue and head east. Turn right onto Valley View Street and into the campus. The gallery is across from Parking Lot 9.

Wherewithal: Admission is free.

Where to call: (714) 826-5593.

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