Into the Void

Contemporary art finds a home at two new galleries in western Ventura County.

By Ryan A. Smith

Elisa Berry Fonseca Stalagmites, 2014 Tarpaper, fabric, wax, steel On display at galerie102 as part of Cycles and Spires, Aug. 9 - Sept. 14.


fresh feeling is tingling across Ventura County’s visual arts community. Something new. Something now. A developing sense for livening classic disciplines with newfangled media tools (plus a twinge of social commentary) is rearing up beneath asphalt formerly owned by sunset pier photos and Pink Moment paintings.     Enter Ojai’s Jolene Lloyd and Ventura’s Mary Haffner, respective owners of galerie102 and The Blue Cube, who recently breathed ultramodern life into the local fine art scene by opening their inspired galleries. Though unaffiliated with each other, these pleasantly passionate women share a common goal: to promote up-and-coming, forward thinking artists.

With their budding galleries already forcing rubberneck glances from big-city eyes, Lloyd and Haffner have hoisted a new high water mark in contemporary art assemblages for the local area, and look to broaden the artistic horizon for all of Ventura County—and beyond.

Mary, what’s your main focus at The Blue Cube?

Mary Haffner: We hope to engage a diverse audience with an art program dedicated to innovation, experimentation, and cutting-edge contemporary art. Our main focus is installation and conceptual works, but we are open to any new or unusual, boundary-pushing art.

What convinced each of you these spaces were the right fit for your respective visions?

Jolene Lloyd: The galerie102 space is light and bright, with 11-foot-high ceilings and ample wall space for displaying large pieces or assemblages of works. The square orientation also lends itself very well to floor installations, sculptures, and 3-D displays.

MH: The 920-square-foot rectangle that is The Blue Cube is the perfect space for displaying art, and I knew it the minute I saw it. One of our walls is beautifully weathered brick and the rest is all white. The stained concrete floor complements installation work. And I like that it is located on the edge of downtown Ventura, in a primarily residential area with a smattering of businesses.

What directions in contemporary art are capturing your attention?

MH: I appreciate street art, video installations, and performance art—in particular, long-duration performance art. I really like the idea of projecting video from a gallery window out into the street, enlarging the art space, engaging more people. The idea of always having to go into a discrete building dedicated to art can feel restricting.

JL: I’m captivated by a new generation of artists who combine handwork with computer application to turn out a finished product that goes through layers of creation, something impossible without our current technology. Many of our artists start with photography, pen-and-ink, or watercolor, and then manipulate the image in the computer. It really is using the computer as an additional, artistic tool.

Where do you think the most exciting things are happening?

MH: The projection of art into the public sphere is a new trend I find interesting. Social practice art is picking up speed and, if we can use art to turn the dial on important issues like homelessness and income inequality, that’s great. I also appreciate those artists that plant art in public spaces and no one knows who put it there.

JL: It’s hard to choose just one medium. I would say, though, that video installation is reaching a new high in terms of accessibility and the range of possibilities now available.

The phrase “thought-provoking” is often used as a blanket term in the art world. What does it mean to each of you?

JL: Thought-provoking, to me, is art that asks questions of the viewer and demands the viewer participate on a journey of self-discovery in reaction to what is presented. It is art that doesn’t just exist because it is beautiful—although it often is beautiful. It is art that takes the viewer slightly out of his or her comfort zone, but, at the very least, gets the viewer to question and explore different possibilities of what is on view, not just accept what is on view.

MH: Thought-provoking: I can look at a painting of a landscape and it can take me back to the memory of a place I once visited. I want to introduce art that the viewer is either completely confused by, or is absolutely unaware that anything like it ever existed before in the world of art. Art has the ability to broaden perspectives, completely take one out of their regular, expected world and transport you, expand you. It offers up alternative modes of thinking, of questioning. We are all so different; our thoughts about a particular subject vary widely. What if we open up that dialogue through art? Don’t get me wrong: I love looking at landscapes. I am just drawn to art that opens up concepts and creates a new space in our minds that wasn’t there before. At our opening, a friend of mine came up to me and said, “I’m sorry, Mary, I just don’t get this. This is art?” I couldn’t have been happier.

Have you noticed a common thread between the local artists you’ve worked with so far, a Ventura County style?

MH: Many of them have acquired, either intentionally or unintentionally, a social practice theme. Artists are making statements with their art. From the environment to hunger, homelessness, and income inequality, young artists are aware and informed, and they care. Some of the artists I have worked with, especially those who are featured in “Natural Resources,” are passionately concerned about human destruction of the environment.

JL: I don’t see a common thread and really don’t want to; they are all so different and unique in their own right. If I had to create a common thread, I would say they are all very brave to be working in Ventura County, which seems to just be finding its way in presenting art.

Your galleries share an emphasis on “outsider art,” works produced by self-taught artists who are not part of the artistic establishment.
Why is that? And how do you feel about student artists?

MH: Thus far, The Blue Cube has not worked with many self-taught artists, but they have certainly all been out of the establishment. Artists want a good place to show their work, but there is a lot of angst with the typical artist/gallery relationship. As someone who is involved in education, I have gravitated to searching out artists who are studying at some of our regional educational institutions. We want to support emerging artists who are passionate about their work and taking risks with their art. But I am open to any artist whose work is fresh, stimulating, intriguing, and out of the ordinary.

JL: At this moment, galerie102 doesn’t present student work, but it’s a possibility for the future. There aren’t a lot of galleries in Ventura County that focus on contemporary art to this degree; even in Santa Barbara you’d be hard pressed to find a pure contemporary art gallery. Believe me, I checked before I opened last November. And with the Sylvia White Gallery closing, there just are not a lot of options for contemporary art and those artists in Ventura County. But I believe this will change.

Is either of you an artist? If so, how does that inform your work as a curator?

MH: Yes, and being an artist I have great respect for artists. Once they are given our space, the artist is in control. They are free to create an experience for the viewer that embodies their vision. I want artists to go for it without feeling constrained.

JL: I am not an artist, but I’ve always immersed myself in art and culture (or my favorite: counter-culture). Curating is an art in itself, which requires an artistic sensibility, diplomatic reach with artists and collectors, and the determination and business sense to keep your vision alive.

Describe a piece you’ve shown that complemented the energy of your gallery.

MH: There was one installation piece entitled “Campfire Stories,” by Bridget Batch. Her work was a call to connect. I curtained off a separate space from the other works, where the viewer was invited to engage with another viewer by sitting in camping chairs, holding flashlights around Bridget’s campfire, and telling stories to each other. At the same time, the viewers faced a wall where the artist’s projected video told her own story through images of the surrounding campfire areas. She used footage from Oxnard and Ventura in this video, embellishing it with special effects. This piece reflected the energy of our art space and called into question a viewer’s willingness to engage in the art. It was interesting to watch patrons walk up to the installation and immediately look uncomfortable at the prospect of sitting down with another person to engage. Some participated without hesitation, while others were visibly perplexed at the thought. I find this so fascinating. I want to give viewers an option, but I also want to push them into seeing things differently.

JL: It’s hard for me to choose one, but I’d say that our opening show, “We Are One/We Are Many,” which featured the paintings of local Ojai artist Devin Oatway and the sculpture of Jon Rajkovich, was spot-on to the gallery’s mission to present art and artists who are “thinking and working outside of the box.”

What impresses each of you as gallery directors?

JL: Fearlessness impresses me. Artists who aren’t afraid to push the limits in what they create and will go to any length to have their artistic vision realized.

MH: I appreciate the conceptual aspect of art; therefore, we don’t show many representational works. My artists know far more about art than I do, and I like it that way. I know what I like and I think I have a pretty good eye for what could be considered interesting and thought-provoking. The rest is up to the artist.

What is your ultimate goal for your gallery?

JL: My ultimate goal is to continue to present contemporary art in Ventura County for many years to come.

MH: The ultimate goal is to support artists who are willing to take risks with their work, give them a professional space to create a show that reflects their vision, and then introduce this vision to the community so we all can be enriched by this important mode of expression we call art.


The Blue Cube
86 S. Laurel St., Ventura; 805.218.0842
102 W. Matilija St., Ojai; 805.640.0161

Blue Cube owner Mary Haffner and the boundary-pushing artwork of Dawn Ertl.

Jolene Lloyd (right) with sculptor Allie Pohl during a recent conversation series at galerie102. Photo by JR Watson.

Currently showing at the Blue Cube: Natural Resources, works by Dawn Ertl and Mary Beierle. Immersive installations and sculptures focus on techniques and subject matter that investigate the dynamics of nature.


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