Matthew Rolston at the Laguna Art Museum – Art and Cake

Matthew Rolston, Barye, Roger and Angelica (Roger), 2016 (Courtesy of Fahey / Klein, Los Angeles).

Matthew Rolston, Art People: The Pageant Portraits

Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach

until September 19, 2021

Written by Liz Goldner

If art is a metaphor for life, this photographic exhibition is an exploration of the creative energy of humanity, as well as the search for meaning and identity. Or as Nigel Spivey, a classic scholar, explains in this exhibit’s catalog, “’Art People’ makes a statement about our identity as human beings: how we define ourselves as creative creatures and as people. ‘individuals whose individuality is part of this creativity. Powerful.”

Inspired by this truism, “Matthew Rolston, Art People: The Pageant Portraits” takes a multi-faceted approach to photography – with his portraits of people, made up and dressed to resemble characters in paintings and sculptures; they are actually characters from Laguna Beach’s theatrical event, Pageant of the Masters, which features the centuries-old art form known as ‘living images’.

The 1932 outdoor pageant, shown for eight weeks each summer, features volunteer cast members wearing detailed makeup and costumes, posing in elaborate painted settings with creative lighting. The resulting tableaux vivants or “living images” depict works of art over the centuries, from those of old masters to contemporary artists.

While living images are appropriate for actual works of art, some of that art is based on photos, as with David Hockney’s painting, “American Collectors,” or on created scenes populated by actual people who pass themselves off as historical figures. An example of a painting that would have been constructed from a posed scene is “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. This historic painting was the last living tableau in the historical reenactment for many decades.

“Art People” was created by Rolston, a visionary artist, photographer and filmmaker, who admired the Pageant of the Masters since he was a child. Building on his decades of fascination with the event, he set out five years ago to do individual portraits of the contest’s cast members, while they were not posing for the actual live footage. Malcolm Warner, former executive director of the Laguna Art Museum, explains this process in the catalog: “By isolating his subjects and presenting them in such high definition that the brush and painted patinas reveal themselves as the makeup that they are, Rolston brings the eerie and melancholy poetry of real people posing as painted and sculpted people.

The resulting photographic portraits explore the humanity within us, as well as the deeper vicissitudes of works of art, including the “hall of mirrors” aspects of artistic creation. Some of Rolston’s photos were then based on figures of living images from Pageant, themselves based on paintings and sculptures, themselves derived from photos or staged scenes.

His “Da Vinci, The Last Supper (Saint Philip The Curious)”, depicting the character of Saint Philip from Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, is a portrait of a pageant actor, heavily made up, hair and dress to mimic a person of the time of Christ. Depicting a man with a somber expression, it eclipses the present, leading the viewer to a solemn scene from millennia ago.

Rolston’s “Barye, Roger and Angelica”, adorning the cover of the catalog and serving as the hallmark of the show, depicts a young woman painted entirely in gold, including her draped dress and hair, with only her piercing blue eyes revealing her. living identity. She is a human being, on the way to becoming a sculptural work, thus reversing the myth of Pygmalion.

Most of the other portraits in this exhibit are figures from classical historical paintings and sculptures. Yet Rolston’s “Hockney, American Collectors (Marcia Weisman)” is a contemporary portrayal of a Pageant actor posing as the late art collector, Marcia Weisman. Hockney’s original 1968 painting, “American Collectors,” in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, was created from a photo of Weisman and her husband Frederick Weisman posing next to their house. The Pageant model in this photo takes Weisman to a more humanistic level than that displayed in Hockney’s original painting.

Marcia Simon Weisman (1918-1991) and her husband were major art collectors in Los Angeles. Their spectacular collection of modern and contemporary art, which formed the basis of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, is open to the public by reservation only.

Rolston wrote for the “Art People” catalog, “Art is human. We are art. Indeed, this astonishing exhibition, elevating portrait photography to a deep and humanistic level, explores the connection where people transcend their limits to create great art.

Laguna Art Museum

307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach, California 92651

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