“Orange Sunshine and the Mystic Artists,1967-1970”, opening saturday night at Coastline Art Gallery, is the first exhibition to examine psychedelic art produced in Orange County by the Mystic Artists, a loosely organized group of artists interested in alternative culture, mystical experience, and the transformation of society. These artists congregated and exhibited their art at Mystic Arts World, a psychedelic emporium in Laguna Beach, which existed from 1967 to 1970. The shop –which closed due to a fire–was ground zero for hippie culture in Southern California during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and rich artistic and perceptual experimentation grew out of this burgeoning psychedelic culture.
Curator for the exhibition Bolton Colborn says:
Nick Schou’s book Orange Sunshine was a revelation. I had no idea of the breath and depth of what occurred in Laguna Beach during this time. I thought it was culturally significant and wanted to see what the visual side of Nick’s story looked like. I was intrigued by what and who was showed at Mystic Arts World and why it had been swept under the rug.
The exhibition, running from July 27 to September 26, 2015, in the art gallery at Coastline Community College in Newport Beach, includes both art that was exhibited at Mystic Arts World and, out of necessity, work by Mystic Artists dating from roughly the same time period. Artistic expression ranges from Beat assemblage (Jane Callender, George Herms, Paul Darrow, Louis Newman, and Andy Wing), to Visionary (Carol Abrams, Tom Blackwell, Robert Branaman, and Dion Wright) to craft and figuration (Roger Armstrong, Italo d’Andrea, Robert “Jocko” Johnson, Beth Pewther, David Rosen, and Jon Stokesbary). There will also be a digital projection of the work of Richard Aldcroft, who once installed a psychedelic light projection in the gallery.
The sculptures of Robert “Jocko” Johnson, donated by Allan Seymour will also be on display in the exhibition. Allan Seymour, an orange county resident and historian who is deeply connected to the surf culture, said that the exhibit evokes memories beyond Mystic Arts World. He explained to Michael Miller of the Daily Pilot that his now-deceased friend cottoned to the dusty, rural vibe of southern orange county in the 1960’s and left subsequently as the area grew more suburban.
“He moved up to Twenty Nine Palms when it became too civilized here with too many rules. He always missed the living down here.”
In addition, the exhibition features cultural artifacts that provide context for the time period. Dion Wright, who was the curator of the gallery program at Mystic Arts World and collaborated on the exhibition, provided a treasure trove of photographs, posters, exhibition announcements, flyers, and other material relating to Mystic Arts World.
Colborn says while his goal was to give people a glimpse into the visual culture of the era,
We are not trying to recreate MAW, but are trying to evoke it .
Today there is a built-in cultural inclination to dismiss works of art that make reference to use of psychedelic substances, While the reasons are many, including the fear of promoting the use of LSD, the attitude is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The search for self—the ultimate quest of the Baby Boomer generation—set the stage in the 1960s for one of the most remarkably open-minded and culturally fertile periods of the century, and mindaltering chemicals were a catalyst in making that possible. Given the level of fear and control prevalent in our culture today, it is worth taking a look at the cauldron of art and ideas arising out of the Mystic Arts World. The artists’ countercultural activity and mystical quest can still inspire us today in our thinking about personal and global transformation.
Artists who exhibited in the Mystic Arts World included Carol Abrams, Isaac Abrams, Richard Aldcroft, Roger Armstrong, Jan Peters Babcock, Tom Blackwell, Mark Blumenfeld, Robert Ronnie Branaman, Jane Callender, Italo d’Andrea, Paul Darrow, Louis Delsarte, Khigh Alx Dhiegh, Philip Freeman, Ray Friesz, Louis Goodman, Reuben Greenspan, Bill Groves, George Herms, R.L. “Holly” Hollingsworth, Robert Jocko Johnson, Julie Kahn, Steve Kensrue, Karen Kozlow, Terry Lamb, Bob Laney, Ed Lutz, Robert McCarron, Joe Miller, Dwight Morouse, Jim Nussbaum, Harve Parks, Beth Pewther, Noble Richardson, Larry Rink, David Rosen, R.L. Bob Ross, Mary Riker Segal, Gayl Stenlund, Gerd Stern, Jon Stokesbary, Wiktor Sudnik, John Upton, Gordon Wagner, Andy Wing, Dion Wright, and Bob Young.
Former Mystic Arts World gallery director Dion Wright–who collaborated on the exhibition, and has written a book about Mystic Arts World, Tempus Fugit, which he will be presenting at the July 28 panel discussion–says:
While it lasted, Mystic Arts World was a focus of seminal, sometimes cosmological, and always super-conscious Art. This writer was dragooned into service early-on by John Griggs, who was determined to feature my Taxonomic Mandala within Mystic Arts World, and feature me personally as the maitre d’ of presenting ‘far out, outtasight’ works of Art. What you see in this exhibition is a collection of surviving works of that wild period.
Additionally, Wright was asked if he felt that the gallery would have endured all of these years if it were not for the fire, which he noted began around the same time as the Sawdust Festival. His response while being unsentimental about the shop existing during the era that spawned The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, was as follows:
It was a godawful period full of disaster and it had very little to recommend it, except that it was doing some good work to oppose the Vietnam War. Aside from that it was painful.
To re-create the atmosphere during the Mystic Arts World years, the exhibition space will have the music of Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar playing. It was his music that was often played as background music in the Mystic Art Gallery.
OC Weekly managing editor and author of the book Orange Sunshine, Nick Shou, was asked whether there was still interest in an exhibit about Mystic Artists works. He responded that he suspects so, adding:
I think that even though Laguna has changed dramatically since the 60’s, there’s still a core kind of community who remember what it used to be like. So the story of Mystic Arts World is certainly a key part of the nostalgia that exists for that time period.
Cartwheel Art founder Cindy Schwarzstein agrees. Although Cindy’s family moved to Laguna Beach in 1974, she has memories of the community of artists and their work along with the hippie sub-culture of that time period that was present for many years after Mystic Arts World closed and that can still be seen today, although the style is in not the mainstream of art that is shown in Laguna Beach.
Opening Reception Facebook Invite here.
The exhibition is on display July 27 to September 26, 2015,
Tuesday-Saturday, 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays until 8:00 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.
The gallery will be closed on Saturday, August 29.
Orange Sunshine and the Mystic Artists, 1967-1970 is made possible through the generous support of presenting sponsor RVCA. Additional support comes from the Croul Family Foundation, Jennifer and Anton Segerstrom, an Anonymous donor, Kristine E. Thalman and Family, the William Gillespie Foundation, Grand Central Art Forum, and Mary E.M. Houseal.
Programs will take place at Coastline Art Gallery at Coastline Community College
(1515 Monrovia Avenue, Newport Beach, CA 92663). Admission is free.
Tuesday July 28
A panel discussion moderated by the original Mystic Arts World Gallery Director, and author ofTempus Fugit, Dion Wright, features many of the people involved with The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Mystic Arts World, including Beth Leeds, Joe Miller, Carol Griggs Randall, Michael Randall, Star Shields, and Gerd Stern.
The 1968 Exhibit Presented by the Bowers Museum
On display June 13-September 13, 2015
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706
Museum hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
The Art of Bill Ogden
Presented by Laguna College of Art + Design
On display July 2-August 31, 2015
Opening reception: July 2, 5:00-9:00 p.m.
Laguna College of Art + Design Gallery
374 Ocean Avenue, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Contact Andrea Harris McGee for additional information at email@example.com
Preview images of some of the art follows: