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Visual Arts: A Pop Surrealist Dream At ‘Survey Select’

Artist Irene Hardwicke Olivieri was never one for city life. On the walls of her rented NYC apartments, she painted trees, while beetles, caterpillars, and other assorted insects nested in cages throughout her hallways.

“The mysterious workshop of nature is my biggest influence,” explains Olivieri. “I worked as a gardener at the Cloisters Museum, and did drawings of neo-tropical palms and the insects that pollinate them for a botanist at the New York Botanical Garden.”

Now living “off the grid” in central Oregon, this earthbound affinity seeps into her stunning, Kahloesque canvasses, which have caught the eye of many – including curator Mark Murphy, who hand-picked the painter for this summer’s hotly-anticipated "Survey Select."

Olivieri will be one of 65 international artists special to the show, which opens to the public this Friday in the Wonder Bread Factory downtown.

It's an ambitious undertaking, with an agenda that includes hands-on workshops (build your own ’zine!), live performances (Manouk!), and indie documentary screenings (including Murphy’s own "Scribble .08"), that promises to be a culture addict’s utopia.

Murphy, also a fine art publisher, artist and filmmaker, says the premise for "Survey Select" was spurred by the salons of the past once championed by Guggenheim and Kiesler. The event is a reality thanks to funding from Murphy and dozens of volunteers, and its summer-long stretch runs eight weeks, from July 15 until September 5.

"Goofball Gobbledygook" by Kelsey Brookes.
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Above: "Goofball Gobbledygook" by Kelsey Brookes.

“I felt it important to offer the city of San Diego and regional fans of art and culture to have the opportunity to take in the exhibition on many levels and over the course of multiple visits,” says Murphy. “To me, this is a wonderful opportunity for locals to participate and support the arts.”

San Diego, in fact, is very much present. Participating in the show are Tijuana native Hugo Crosthwaite, recently featured here on Culture Lust, and painter Kelsey Brookes, a former biochemist for the CDC. Murphy got in touch with Brookes after Miami’s monolithic arts fest, Art Basel.

“The San Diego and Southern California art scenes are better than ever,” says Brookes. “There are lots of really great artists here. After seeing MCASD’s ‘Here Not There,’ I’m just now familiarizing myself with a few of them after 10 years of living here.”

Brookes will participate in the show’s Artist Lecture Series on August 7th, which also touts guest appearances from Jeff Soto, Daniel Martin Diaz, and Mel Kadel.

Murphy says work featured in "Survey Select" will range from folklore to the fantastically dark, though works from most artists seem to fall under the category of lowbrow, or pop surrealism.

"Pestilence" by James Jean.
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Above: "Pestilence" by James Jean.

But “genres are limiting, and I don't like to ally myself with any movement in particular,” says James Jean, an L.A. native who’s responsible for some of D.C. Comics’ most stunning covers and seven Eisner awards. “There aren't any elements of 'pop' in my current work. Mark has put together an interesting program, and I hope my work will reach a broader audience.”

To thank for the Wonder Bread Factory’s transformation is Bells and Whistles, the mod squad behind the Orchid Award-winning Starlite and Disconnected Salon. Its industrially quirky interior is almost as cheeky as the artists it compliments, employing scrap metal and “bits and bobs from local salvage yards,” says co-founder Barbara Rourke.

“Our design approach for 'Survey Select’s' furniture and lighting installation was to create beautiful, eclectic objects essentially from junk,” says Rourke. “We hope our efforts provoke creative thought and inspire the viewer to imagine new incarnations of their possessions instead of discarding them.”

Also featured as part of the salon is a pop-up store that will offer mix-and-match wares like mini ’zines, works from Murphy’s Design Art Book company, art house DVDs and scores of hand-made objects.

Murphy stresses that "Select" strives to showcase narrative in art. He says each artist will provide statements that will allow visitors to examine – or “survey” – their work closely. With the right support, he hopes it will one day transition into an independent entity – the "Museum of Narrative Arts."

“The major goal is for everyone to know that they are invited to check out a world-class exhibition featuring some of today’s best visual storytellers,” he says. “This is a premier event for the community that will evoke a positive, thought-provoking experience.”

And what are the artists looking most forward to during their S.D. sojourn?

“The food,” confesses Jean. “(But also) a scene that’s vibrant, full of energy, and without pretense.”

Survey Select opens this Friday and is free to the public. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. For a full list of events planned, you can click here.

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