By Sarah Linn
Ever since John Singer Sargent scandalized society with his sexy “Portrait of Madame X,” Pablo Picasso portrayed a pack of Spanish prostitutes in “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and Marcel Duchamp scrawled a signature on a porcelain urinal and titled it “Fountain,” young artists have challenged the status quo.
A new crop of upstarts will shock, surprise and delight at the art show “Young Savages,” which runs through March 31 at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles.
The show, organized by San Luis Obispo artist Neal Breton, features the work of about 28 Central Coast artists between the ages of 17 and 38. Authentic and intriguing, raw and irreverent, they range from established professionals such as Jeff Claassen and Lena Rushing to newcomers including Chloe Parks and Beth Reninger.
In the five years he’s lived in San Luis Obispo, “I have met a full spectrum of artists that have inspired and impressed me,” Breton said, from woodcut printmaker Jamie Coxon to graffiti-inspired street artists GWAP and Stenzskull. “I feel I have skillfully crafted a collection of people in this show who are from all different walks of the art world.”
Studios on the Park founder Anne Laddon hopes that “Young Savages,” which opened Thursday, will expose local art lovers to a different segment of society than the one normally glimpsed in San Luis Obispo County galleries and gift shops.
“I’m really excited and interested to bring a younger look and a younger audience to Studios on the Park,” said Laddon, who provided the 16-by-20-inch canvases used by the “Young Savages” artists.
Breton, 38, studied design at Pasadena City College before dropping out to join the Los Angeles art scene. Later, the artist moved to San Luis Obispo, which reminded him of his native New England.
“I just saw an immense opportunity to put my work out there, into galleries,” recalled Breton, whose works reflect fine-lined pop perfectionism mixed with wry humor.
A discussion about the dearth of independently owned art supply stores led to another opportunity.
“I just felt like the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight hit my car, and I knew what I needed to do,” recalled Breton, who had just lost his job in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. “I need(ed) to open my own store and be my own boss for a while.”
San Luis Art Supply in San Luis Obispo rapidly “became a hub,” he said. “It was a great place (for) people (to) sit down and talk and draw. … That’s what I was missing in L.A. I was missing the connection with other artists.”
Although Breton sold the store’s assets to Cal Poly grad and “Young Savages” artist Isaac Yorke, who opened Half Bad Art Supply in Temecula in June, he has maintained his links to the local art community.
“I was just really impressed by his unique vision and his enthusiasm for artmaking,” Laddon said of Breton. His “Young Savages” piece, “Skulk 2,” depicts a group of fierce fox-women brandishing knives.
Laddon is also a fan of Rushing, whose exhibition, “Strange Women in Strange Company,” showed at Studios on the Park in November.
Rushing, who hails from Huntington Beach, moved to the Central Coast from Riverside in her early 20s to finish her fine arts degree at Cuesta College.
“When I first moved here, it was harder for me. I didn’t know anyone my age doing art,” the Grover Beach resident said, and local galleries weren’t receptive to her striking, sometimes provocative subject matter.
“Pitching a show in a place that’s known for paintings of vineyards and plein air stuff is difficult,” she added, especially when one’s art often features bare-breasted women and wild animals.
Once she started meeting other artists in her age group, “It just got a lot easier,” she said.
Rushing, 38, said her most recent work reflects the dichotomy between her public persona as the warm, loving mother of a 11-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, and her more turbulent inner life.
“The part of me that’s darker can just go onto the canvas,” she said. In her painting “Eat Your Heart Out,” for instance, blonde, bloodstained girls devour a cake shaped like an anatomically correct heart.
“Young Savages” will feature her portrait of participating artist Erica Hamilton sporting a Mohawk hairstyle.
Alister Dippner, 24, said he’s enjoyed a smoother transition as a Central Coast transplant.
He grew up in Palm Springs, landing a job after high school as a muralist for the Palm Springs Unified School District. He estimates he painted about 25 murals throughout the Coachella Valley in two years.
Dippner moved to San Luis Obispo about a year and a half ago on the invitation of his brothers, who work locally as a chef and a graphic designer. “I’ve really loved it here,” he said.
He’s found success as an album cover artist for Los Angeles electronic rock band Ghost Town. Every time they release a song, he crafts a brightly-colored painting — then shares his artistic process via YouTube.
“All the covers are kind of creepy but at the same time they’re really cute,” said Dippner, whose paintings of purple-haired princesses, hard-partying skeletons and big-eyed monsters sporting miniature top hats have attracted fans as far away as Australia, Croatia and Vietnam. “It’s humorous horror, cartoon gore.”
Dippner, whose “Young Savages” submission depicts a steampunk dragon in a forest populated by other fantastic creatures, described his artwork as “a direct reflection of my personality.”
According to Breton, “Young Savages” offers an extensive overview of young artists active on the Central Coast.
“The work you’re going to see is going to be really varied but very good,” he said.
IF YOU GO
"Young Savages" can be seen throughout March at Studios on the Park, 1130 Pine St. in Paso Robles. Admission to the gallery is free; it's open noon to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Sundays and noon to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call 238-9800 or visit www.studiosonthepark.org