Reflections of light and life at Brett Rubbico Gallery in Newport Beach

During the early part of my childhood growing up in Orange County, I can remember countless rides in the backseat of my parents’ Datsun from downtown Orange where we lived to my great-grandmother’s apartment in what is now considered Laguna Hills.  The air would turn pink during certain sunsets, mixing with the leaves of the massive eucalyptus trees that lined long stretches of farm fields in Irvine. Mystery crops would be coming up, clinging to sticks for support and I would stare at the rows they made, rapidly passing my window in a hypnotic whir.

The farmlands are nearly gone now and my memories of being whisked through them in the backseat of a station wagon have been turned over to the collective memory of anyone and everyone who established their lives in Orange County prior to 1990. It is a strange kind of light-based nostalgia, played out in a visual language comprised of shaped canvases and reflective surfaces. To give you an idea, imagine an Airstream trailer suspended in the chemical blue of swimming pool, or an army of pink stucco boxes marching to the sea or a glint of light reflected off the wing of an airplane flying almost too low towards John Wayne airport.

At the point where words fail to describe the complexity of visuals associated with this much misunderstood region of the country, there are always rare glimpses into its heart, like the Summer Group Show at the Brett Rubbico Gallery in Newport Beach. A sparse and impeccably curated collection of 12 artists, all are dedicated members of the Southern California arts community, many being teachers, curators, and museum administrators as well as fine artists.

The exhibit as a whole boasts 29 works, all of which are incredibly elegant and petite – the largest work being a diptych totaling 41 x 20 inches. Everything about the space and the work within it speaks to the careful eye of owner Brett Rubbico who prides himself on the knowledge he has acquired through building strong relationships with the artists he chooses to show. Within minutes of speaking with him, one learns just how passionate Rubbico is about the work and its solid yet subtle correlation with the region. Far from striving to only represent Orange County artists however, Rubbico reacts on instinct, curating in a naturally pristine fashion that seems to build upon the strengths of the surrounding community only by accident.

It is in this space between accident and design that Rubbico is most comfortable. His crisp, light-filled gallery is located in a dark-wooded complex in old Newport, set apart from other  galleries. He is not associated with a particular scene or art centric region, but rather chooses to focus on the whole of Orange County including areas of South Los Angeles, carving out a mission for the gallery, exhibit by exhibit. It is clear that he intends to present art in his own way, choosing to show a full roster of emerging artists alongside local giants like Tom Dowling and Craig Antrim. As a group show, this exhibit is an impressive cross section of what Rubbico has been working towards since he opened almost 5 years ago.

A great jumping off point is the work of artist David Michael Lee, who contributed two square panels featuring a clever pairing of dominant and recessive color and texture. At times carving through the paint to reveal the plywood below, Lee never allows the viewer to fully lose themselves in the work, always referencing the foundation on which the image has been created.  The work very much speaks to the contrast between the sacred chaos that we perceive as nature and the sublime pastel order that we subject ourselves to as a way of casting a balance.

Artist Ed Bopp lends a tremendous amount of observational humor and wit with his work “Overlapped and Stacked Tracks (Dusk),” “Overlapped and Stacked Tracks (Dawn)” and “Good Fences.” The architectural shapes never allow themselves to step out of sync, each geometrically leading into the next.  Although the canvases are small, they possess an endlessness that, once you identify the shapes as architecture, is hard not to connect to the hastily constructed apartment complexes that have sprung up seemingly overnight across the whole of Irvine and beyond.

Sleek geometrics are taken to a level of pristine craftsmanship with the work of Christopher Georgesco. His quiet forms feel almost as if they should be functional and choose not to be in way of protest. They are a beautiful addition to a long history of Southern California artists experimenting with bringing the canvas off the wall.

From the larger picture imparted through precision, one then moves to the whipped glory of thick paint on canvas with Bradford J. Salamon’s pair of 8 x 8 inch pieces, one a portrait of the iconic Mr. Zog’s SEXWAX and the other of a no-less iconic fold of Zig Zag rolling papers. What could be considered the other end other spectrum, careful curation transforms Salamon’s paintings into the center strength of the narrative thread running through the entire exhibit. Here are the details, the devilish texture to all the light and shape.

Another stand out work is “Rethink II Diptych” by Jay Sagen, a beautifully handled pair of ink strokes on Yupo that look effortless, although being a physical object, we know that it cannot possibly be. In that movement of the artist’s hand, left to dry unabsorbed by the plastic coated paper, is evidence of masterful handling of the medium. That attention to detail is something Rubbico seems to be drawn to. Each and every work in the show could be described as “technical” in its presentation. Clean, contemporary, honest and unpretentious, the work achieves the same ends as the gallery itself.

Exhibiting artists include: Craig Antrim, Jane Bauman, Ed Bopp, Tom Dowling, Mieke Gelley, Christopher Georgesco, Karen Kauffman, David Michael Lee, Michael Maas, Jay Sagen, Bradford J. Salamon and Maura Williams.

The show closes on August 3rd and is very much worth a visit.

Brett Rubbico Gallery is located at 361 Old Newport Boulevard in Newport Beach, California. For more information please call 949.515.5102 or write to

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