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The Arts
March 28-April 4, 2007

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Goldies 2007:
Intro | Readers' choice | Burritos guide | Downtown public artworks | Downtown street performers | Late-night eateries | Low-budget weddings | Soup and sandwich spots | Taking the folks | Things to do with kids on holiday

Young Artists' Studio Mural

Young Artists' Studio Mural

Goldies 2007: Critics' Picks

Favorite Downtown Public Artworks

By Steve Hahn

Walking down the street is a supreme bore in some towns--you know, those standardized development complexes that are created in a fortnight with hardly a fleeting thought directed toward architectural artistry. Lucky for us, Santa Cruz is seeping with creative types, and their products are laid bare for public view, especially on main drags such as Pacific Avenue. Some of the louder and more extravagant live acts can deter our eyes from the static art, patiently and quietly waiting to be appreciated. So, next time you're strolling downtown, take a break from gawking at the assorted freaks and check out some of these more subtle creations.


Construction is an inevitable part of life, but boy is it ugly. The finished product may look great, but the building process involves unsightly piles of discarded materials and plumes of smoke from noisy equipment. It doesn't help matters any to have a chain-link fence surrounding the area. Perhaps it's the sense of contrast that adds to the beauty of this mural, painted along the wooden walkway that redirects pedestrians away from the construction site. Talented teenagers with disabilities worked with able-bodied teens to paint the mural, meant to be representations of their self-images. Some of these self-portraits are relatively straightforward re-creations of what the person actually looks like, but others show more creativity by blending the real with the imaginary. The mural was sponsored by Young Artists' Studio, an arts program run by Shared Adventures. The National Endowment for the Arts made the Studio program possible with a grant of $25,000.


Street performers abound on the Pacific Street mall, but none have the storied history of Tom Scribner, who could be seen serenely playing his musical saw in the 1970s and has been immortalized in a statue outside Bookshop Santa Cruz. In addition to playing his saw with musical legends such as Neil Young and George Harrison, Scribner was an active member in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union, a group on the fringes of the labor movement aimed at organizing all workers into a singular union. As a logger he helped form the International Woodworkers of America, and as a journalist he founded two newspapers. The statue was sculpted by Marghe McMahon, with $1,500 of her own money and $2,500 in grants from multiple community organizations.


This semi-impressionistic statue, located at the corner of Pacific and Lincoln across from the Del Mar Theatre, presents for your eyes a metal figure reclining, hands behind the head, perhaps relaxing at one of Santa Cruz's many clothing-optional beaches. The reclining figure is clearly feminine, with breasts bared, yet lacks any clear expression of sexuality. While artist intention is inherently hard to grasp in sculpture, the exaggerated features and oversize limbs of this figure seems to be questioning our perceptions of body image. Why, it's almost as if the artist were to prodding us to relax, forget shame and bare all to bathe in the sun whatever our shape or size may be. Sculptor Nic Vidnovic received his bachelor of fine arts at UC-Santa Cruz, but now teaches figure sculpture at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design.


At first glance this sculpture by Gary Dwyer, located in front of the Sock Shop on Pacific, looks like a standard example of "corporate art." You know the kind: those modern art pieces outside tall emotionless office buildings meant to spunk the place up, give it a little hipness, all without the sculpture seeming to have any meaning. But upon closer reflection, this piece is certainly not that. The first thing you notice is that the outside cube is constructed with sides that funnel down to the smaller inside cube, which is really just empty space surrounded by narrowing sides. This means you can look through it. More interestingly, you can look through it from different angles, making it almost like a photo exhibit. You can see four different "pictures" of the surrounding downtown area. So, when you approach the sculpture from a different angle, you are in essence seeing a different variation on that sculpture. The theme of looking at one object from multiple angles is obviously an important facet of art criticism, but also serves as a warning against dogmatism: If we look through the inside cube from only one direction, we are missing out on three-quarters of the picture.


This bright, cheerful mural by James Carl Aschbacher and Lisa Jensen is chock-full of the imagery one would expect to find in the usually upbeat and always quirky Santa Cruz. Located in Plaza Lane, on the side of Benten Sushi, the mural portrays Edenic scenes of humans dancing freely with animals and basking in gorgeous natural surroundings. The fish and other sea animals have magically come out of the water to mingle with the birds and an assortment of land animals. The painting reminds us of how lucky we are to be surrounded by a wealth of biodiversity, which is accessible by visiting the bay or by taking a hike up into the nearby hills and mountains. Aschbacher, who lives and works in Santa Cruz, uses the unique technique of texturing wood and illustration board with multiple layers of enamel paint, creating a distinctive look that sets his work apart.


A pair of murals adorns this narrow alley off Walnut. The first, painted by Ann Elizabeth Thiermann, gives viewers the illusion of looking off their backyard deck into a lush spottily wooded area with a creek running through. You can almost hear the butler calling your name as you temporarily lose yourself in the fantasy that all this is, in fact, your land. Then you realize it's just an overzealous drunk at 99 bottles and you make your way back toward your studio apartment. (The believability of that image, however, is a testament to Thiermann's skill.)

The second mural, by Mark Davis, provides a visual map of "Fashion Throughout the Ages." Apparently there was only room for four ages: spanning the Victorian era to an approaching Future where, if Davis is to be believed, multicolored hair will be the new norm and everyone will be vying for the newest spaceship model. The selection for the age of the 1960s was somewhat counterintuitive. An African American woman stands neutrally in a housewife's dress; not exactly what you'd expect from the era where wild young kids were dressing up in old army uniforms, Native American costume and other strange outfits. Yet, this is when racial integration was reaching a fever pitch (the actual year Davis cites is 1969) and perhaps dressing a dark-skinned female in the garb of Judy Cleaver is a nod toward these first steps at bringing the African American community a small step closer toward the middle-class "American Dream." At any rate, these two murals present a nice reprieve from the drab and flat sides of buildings you would otherwise be seeing.

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