Tony DeLap: Magic Made Easy


illustration by Jared Millar (after Alfred Lutjeans)

Museums these days are in the content creation space: From MOCAtv to the obligatory museum blog to the iPad apps put out by the Metropolitan Museum of Art — for better or worse, it’s about more than just publishing a scholarly catalog with a section of color-printed plates. Lately the Laguna Art Museum has entered the multimedia fray with a series of documentary films by Dale Schierholt entitled “California Masters.” The first of these, “Tony DeLap: A Unique Perspective,” premiered Thursday night at the museum, with the artist and filmmaker present, as well as numerous former students, a couple of magician friends and the artist and cartoonist Paul Darrow.

Darrow and DeLap once worked together as commercial artists painting murals at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Having decorated Tomorrowland, both went on to pursue more fine art pursuits: In an age of minimalist reaction against the Abstract Expressionism of the ‘40s and ‘50s, DeLap’s work was seen in galleries in New York City and on the cover of Artforum. He became one of the founding faculty at the University of California, Irvine’s School of Fine Arts when it opened in 1965; well-known former students such as Chris Burden and James Turrell have cited his positive influence, but the documentary touches only briefly on teaching. For the most part it focuses on the artist’s own geometric and architecturally-influenced work in both sculpture and painting.

The documentary opens with the artist performing a card trick, dressed in a blue denim shirt, with thick-framed glasses and a wispy white beard. Long interested in such sleight of hand, it was at UCI that he performed A Spatial Occurrence, the Levitation of a Human Being during the Duchamp Festival in 1971, immortalized in a photograph by Alfred Lutjeans. The ‘levitation’ trick, which he had already explored in the installation Houdin’s House of 1967, would continue to provide inspiration in various media, including lending its title to sculpture on the campus of Chapman University and elsewhere.

Although somewhat short on art historical context, the film nevertheless works as a sort of artistic testimony — a magician’s tell-all (or perhaps not quite all). It also demonstrates his current practice — methodically taping off a canvas, rolling out flat color — in Hard Edge paintings that explore the interplay between two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. “I don’t want to minimize anything,” notes the artist, despite his reputation as a West Coast minimalist. “What I want to do is complicate.”

Tony DeLap, Double Cross, 2012

Tony DeLap
Double Cross, 2012, Acrylic on linen

Filmmaker Dale Schierholt, who is partnering with Laguna Art Museum to make the series, has previously done documentaries on Louise Nevelson, Robert Indiana and others. Four additional films are expected to be produced and exhibited locally in the next three years before being offered to local PBS stations and released on BluRay.

An additional note: Tony DeLap was instrumental in bringing the late artist John Paul Jones to UCI in 1969, a much more private but no less mysterious artist who established the school’s printmaking department and turned to his own brand of minimal sculptural work in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Coincidentally, a small selection of Jones’ subtle, haunted printmaking, drawing and painting is on view for a few more days in the show “U N D E R the Influence” at Brett Rubbico Gallery in Newport Beach. It is well worth seeing, along with recent paintings by Chris Gwaltney, Bradford Salamon and UCI MFA alumna Mieke Gelley.

“Tony DeLap: A Unique Perspective,”
produced by Laguna Art Museum and Dale Schierholt

“U N D E R the Influence”
(through July 5)
Brett Rubbico Gallery
361 Old Newport Blvd.
Newport Beach, CA 92663
(Open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and by appointment 949-515-5102)

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