A small plot of grass is a fairy ring, a window box becomes an enchanted forest and the tough brambles of the urban rose growing up through a chain link fence guard a sleeping beauty of the fierce canine variety. For anyone who has grown up in an architecturally dense environment, whether it be the concrete containers and electrical wires of the city or the low and sprawling manicured grid of suburbia, the magic of nature is everywhere no matter how unlikely. “I can never keep a house plant alive,” you hear someone on the street say in defeat as they drop a terracotta pot holding the pathetic corpse of a store-bought mum into a nearby dumpster and yet, bright yellow dandelions are launching a major offensive through every crack in the sidewalk.

Where the Sidewalk Ends at Ar4t Gallery in Laguna Beach is an exhibition curated by Chantal de Felice, an artist that in her own work has chosen to celebrate the whimsy and delicate beauty of urban life. Her works are less urban landscapes and more portraits of the energy that becomes infused into houses, alleyways and skylines by the presence of human creativity combined with the persistence of nature. Graphite lines contour small adobe houses of Angelino Heights or render, brick by brick, the facade of a restaurant in San Francisco, conveying a sense of decay, one of the pervasive elements of the natural world. The 8 individual artists and one art collective that she has chosen to include along with her own work, create with gorgeous success the surrealism formed by our constant collaboration with nature. I’ll build it up and you break it down.

In one corner of the gallery, a large-scale cityscape is installed in a pre-existing recess in the concrete walls of the gallery, created by Chantal from the wooden remnants of a shipping crate, complete with telephone poles framing a twinkling skyline and jigsaw windows that form the framing of three delicate watercolors by Allison Peairs. Chantal’s drawings on wood are hung to the right of her city installation in an intimate group like remnants of the city that have floated away.

Along the back wall of the gallery are the collages of Liz Brizzi, strong vibrant mash-ups of buildings and bridges, rendered in a strong graphic style and infused with delicate washes of color. Her work is so steeped in magical realism that the way she flips and inverts the architecture is secondary to all the places she has created for the imagination to go: flat roofs and ladders to penthouse studios, shifting floors and hidden walkways. This sense of magic is a strong thread that runs throughout the show and is maybe the most apparent in the work of Yevgeniya Mikhailik whose delicate watercolor illustrations hold in their depths the power of a personal (and secret) mythology. Her work is less concrete and steel in its architectural sensibilities and more highly textiled like a much-loved and faded quilt thrown over a chair to form a mountain/fort/secret hideout.

One cannot have a secret, much less a hideout, without something or someone from which to hide and in that sense the youth and imagination that create the uplifting aspects of the exhibit are matched by a very adult and even slightly sinister element. Here we are again confronted with the essence of decay as well as facades, but not those that are attributed to buildings but to people, grown up people. A sweet and light-handed grouping of drawings by Nancy Chiu possess the sensuality of rose petals, delicate and almost on the edge of withering. A didactic by Jennie Cotterill of a mountain man on the porch of his charming log cabin becomes satirical when you realize the scene is a self-portrait, the jug of XXX and the doormat that reads “beat it” playing brilliantly against the laundry-line running through the backyard pinned to it an apron and pair of polka-dotted undies.

Meagan Segal too contributes to the grown up side of the equation with arrangements of human organs and bone mixed with florals that possess the sensible beauty of high tea dappled in the soft pink light that will often appear in Southern California at dusk. LCAD student Lauren Molina, participating as part of the college’s Mentoring Program, is a perfect addition with work that utilizes relics from adult life, drafting paper, a magazine clipping, a mid-century style illustration of a girl towering over the treetops, the work entitled “The Tallest Girl In School.” What is an adult but the tallest version of a child?

For the past 3 holiday seasons, Torrey Cook of Ar4t has shown exhibits that celebrate the deep realms of imagination that are sustainable in youth. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a continuation of that tradition with the reference to Shel Silverstein, famed children’s poet and creator of the sustainably absurd. Silverstein was particularly skilled in bringing together sensibilities that could be appreciated on different levels for different reasons by both parent and child. Chantal as curator and Torrey Cook as gallerist have both picked up on these and the result is a highly balanced and collaborative atmosphere that bridges two realms. Every aspect of the exhibit has been meticulously thought through and the opening, happening on Saturday, November 17th from 6 – 9 pm will feature a special performance by artist, writer and all around wit Sophie Kipner and a sound installation by Chantal de Felice specially designed to enhance the work.

Crops of metal flowers created by the non-profit organization CANLOVE are also installed throughout the gallery.

More information on the work they do can be found at canlove.org.

For more information on Ar4t gallery, please visit ar4t.com

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This article was written for the OC Art blog and the OC Artists Republic, published November 16, 2012

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