A gong clangs approximately every 10 seconds in the Grace R. Cavnar gallery, Lawndale Art Center's largest room. The large bay windows that surround the source of the clanging -- Mari Omari's Fieldwork: 2001-2007, a moody multimedia piece -- support the image, framing fat rainclouds that produce low growls of thunder on the gong's upbeat. Two days ago, with over 1000 people in the gallery, this scene would not have been so ominous. Now, alone and surrounded by 82 other paintings, installations, sculptures, multimedia, most conspicuously Black Veil Bride, an eerie paper mache by Avril Falgout that features five life-size K.I.S.S. look-a-like bandmates mid-performance, the setting is overwhelming, as if each piece may come alive and come after you.
Welcome to "The Big Show."
"The Big Show" is an annual juried exhibition. Unlike other exhibitions, however, you don't have to be a world-class artist to enter. You just have to live within a 100-mile radius of Lawndale, have completed your work within the last three years, pay a small entry fee and be able to get your piece(s) through the door when the juror comes through. The highest number of pieces you can enter is three, and there is no age limit: this year's youngest participant, Luna Gajdos, who entered Carnivore, an acrylic on canvas rendition of a dinosaur, is seven. Falgout, who won a juror's prize for the aforementioned sculpture, is 15.
Eventually, the rain comes, pouring down in sheets that mimic the floodgate of artwork that takes up Lawndale's two stories. The gallery drip-drops with life this year; though there is no set theme to Lawndale's "Big Show" exhibitions, many of the works are figurative pieces -- or in the case of Bryan Forrester, back shots.
Forrester's Imogene C-Print photograph shows a naked man and woman in a kitchen, their bodies fully exposed to the camera lens. The man is bent over, throwing up all over the kitchen floor, and his gut chunks, like his rear-end, face the camera dead-on. Maybe the photo's raw edge is what edged Forrester out over others to win an award, along with Falgout and Perry Chandler, who contributed Scene 74-Fear through the Eyes of Madness, an acrylic work.
Kay Sarver's subject is naked as well, only her Pollinate Me piece personifies the beehive into a pregnant woman, surrounded by bees and sunflowers. Her swollen belly looks like a honeycomb.
She is ripe with new bee life," says Sarver. "With the issue of colony collapse so prevalent today, I imagined the strong desire plants have to be pollinated, and how this will not be met. She is their dream answered."
Though the subject of Pollinate Me is naked also, she sits daintily, legs closed, hiding her lower regions. Where Forrester's subject is explicit, Sarver's is sweet.
JooYoung Choi takes figurative art to a mulit-level; Sacrifice of Putt-Putt depicts several images of one woman in multiple states of emotion, from elation to ennui.
"I am a narrative artist," she says. "My work is based on a mythology I have constructed from personal experience and imagination."
Saralene Tapley's piece is both figurative and realistic. Flourish depicts another artist in the exhibit, Bryan Keith Gardner. "I worked on this painting for about six to seven hours a day for over a month-and-a-half," Tapley told us. "The figure was quite involved with the varying flesh tones, but the background was as much of a challenge. This painting took me out of my comfort zone."
The abstract and sculptural pieces are not to be discounted. Albeit small, they pack punches in colors and shapes, such as Julion Pinkston's Shirtless, Young and Catching Fish, part of a series made over the course of 37 years.
"My small work at 'The Big Show' was one of a long series of artwork I have been working on, making paintings that look like they are made of tape, among other things, but are in fact made of acrylic paint," Pinkston wrote to us in an email. "If anything I am trying to see what the material can do, how I can manipulate it and have as much fun doing that as possible."
The rain hasn't stopped yet, but Dennis Nance, exhibitions and programming director for Lawndale, isn't worried about an overflow -- this year, the gallery received 922 pieces from 366 artists. The juror was Duncan MacKenzie, Chicagoan and co-founder of Bad at Sports, an art podcast, who whittled the submissions down to a roster of 83 works by 67 artists.
Nance explains that Lawndale picks outside jurors to look upon the submissions with "fresh eyes."
"We intentionally find someone outside of the region." The Big Show closes August 10. Visit lawndaleartcenter.org for more information.