Laguna Beach arts group returns with ‘Natural Flow’ after Wells Fargo fiasco

Since the Community Art Project severed ties in April with Wells Fargo of Laguna Beach — over the prospect of corporate censorship after an exhibit deemed controversial by bank officials — the nonprofit’s curators have been finding new venues around the city.

Thursday’s opening of “Natural Flow,” an exhibit at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center during the city’s First Thursdays Art Walk, marked the group’s official return to the city’s art scene and what CAP member Faye Baglin described as a new chapter for the arts organization.

“We feel like we’ve really landed,” Baglin said Thursday. “It took us a while to find new exhibition spaces, but we are happy to have found the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center.”

Faye Baglin places works by Paul Gardner, left, and Adrian Fain against the walls of the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center on Thursday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

On display through Dec. 1, “The Natural Flow” features 40 works by six local artists that explore the relationships between elements in nature through contemporary and traditional paintings, sculptures and mixed media.

From the plein air oil paintings of Marianne Champlin to the vivid acrylic expressionist works of Adrienne Fayne to contemplations on the movement of water by Paul Gardner, the works capture the movement and patterns found in the outdoor environment.

The exhibition also features abstract aerial photography by Tom Lamb, which provides a bird’s-eye view of nature’s majesty, alongside photographs and wood sculptures by Troy Poeschl.

“Walking in Wonder,” a GritScript multimedia work by Leslie Bonani

(Courtesy of Leslie Bonani)

Leslie Bonani debuted a series of eye-catching works created in a style she says she discovered by accident in 2015 while working with textured paper coated with pulverized cork, and has since come to call “GritScript.”

The artist from San Clemente realized that with the application of water the material acquired new properties and could be manipulated into patterns and scenes resembling abstract landscapes.

“What happened in front of me was literally like magic. The water started mixing with the paper and it completely transformed,” she recalls. “From that point on I was completely obsessed.”

Although Bonanni has spent the past few years perfecting the unique art form, Thursday’s show represented his first real performance in front of an audience.

“It’s just a big experiment,” she said. “I want to hear the people who come – the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Faye Baglin arranges pieces of a new visual art exhibit at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center.

Faye Baglin arranges pieces of a new visual art exhibit, “Natural Flow,” at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center Thursday, ahead of opening night. The exhibition continues until December 1.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Baglin said Community Art Project members lined up the artists for “Natural Flow” earlier this year and were ready to display their work in the gallery space of the Wells Fargo building at 260 Ocean Ave., before the two organizations parted ways , ending a 20-year collaboration.

The dispute arose after bank officials deemed some pieces in black artist Alison Allen’s human rights-themed show Piece-ful Protest too controversial to exhibit. They tried to change the licensing agreement with CAP, requiring the artwork to be reviewed by a Wells Fargo vice president 15 days before the exhibit opened.

The arts organization balked, deciding instead to terminate its agreement with the bank branch on April 30.

“We realized it would be too cumbersome to work with them,” Baglin recalled Thursday. “It just created too many obstacles. We’re here to support artists – that’s our main goal.”

Rick Conkey, who founded the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center in 2018, was among several community arts groups that offered to host Allen’s work, which Wells Fargo requested be removed from the premises.

“Comfort and Joy,” one of Alison Allen’s “Piece-Ful Protest” quilts, sparked controversy at the Laguna Beach Wells Fargo, where bank officials requested the display be removed in February.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“It was a travesty,” Conkey recalls of the bank’s reaction. “I just wanted to offer as much support as possible to show that the city is willing to show provocative art. [We’re] it’s all about presenting artists who have something to say – that’s the basic art.”

Although CAP found a backup location at Laguna’s Neighborhood Congregational Church, the nonprofit’s members continued to build relationships with Conkey and others. Spring and summer shows are now being planned for the Suzi Q Center and City Hall, respectively.

“We’re back on our feet and we’re very happy and grateful to the community,” Baglin said Thursday. “It will be fascinating to see how our first year goes – I feel good.”

“Natural Flow” opened Thursday and runs through Dec. 1 with Saturday viewings from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center, 235 Forest Avenue. For more information, visit caplaguna.org or lbculturalartscenter.org.

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