Ojai Valley Art Articles, Ojai art scene.

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Ojai’s expansive art scene has attracted the attention of travel booking powerhouse Expedia, which recently designated it as one of America’s most artistic towns.

Just four towns with populations under 20,000 received the honor, out of a total of 26 cities. In addition to Ojai, other cities in the smallest category are Spring Green, Wisconsin; Saugatuck-Douglas, Michigan; and Beacon, New York. 

“We selected towns based on research that included number and uniqueness of art-based events and attractions, exceptional art schools, community support and other features such as theaters, cafes and shops with artistic leanings,” Expedia travel writer Lily Rogers stated in an email. “Ojai stood out in several of these categories.”

An explaining its selection, the website noted Ojai’s plethora of artistic offerings, including numerous art galleries, the Ojai Valley Museum, Bart’s Books and art-related events such as the annual Ojai Music Festival, Ojai Storytelling Festival and Art in the Park hosted by the Ojai Art Center. Rogers said Ojai is also notable for its welcoming atmosphere for artists.

“It also projects an open, free-spirited vibe that would be attractive to any artistic temperament,” she said. “That spirit makes it different than some of the more bustling art scenes on the list — but that’s also exactly what makes it right. Art needs variety of experience and point view to thrive.”

The selection delighted locals involved in Ojai’s art scene, although no one seemed surprised by the designation. 

“The article validated what those of us who live in Ojai know to be the case,” said Ojai Arts Commission Chair Michael Addison. “We are surrounded by artists who are members of our community, which makes it a very special place.” 

Addison and others said Ojai’s natural beauty is part of what inspires artists to come to Ojai and nurtures their creativity. The town also has a long history of artistry and spirituality, he noted.

“The other towns that they mention also have the same sorts of attributes, but we also have the beauty of our natural surrounding that makes the art here special, coupled with a tradition of spirituality in our valley that goes back to the Chumash,” he said. “I think that influences the work of the artist here in Ojai. There is a feeling of connection to the land, it’s very deep.”

Wendy Barker, executive director of the Ojai Valley Museum, which hosts art and history exhibits, agreed.

“I think Ojai has a really special vibe to it,” she said. “It’s such a little town, but people are attracted to the beauty here and to nature and to being a bit away from a lot of the hustle and bustle in other areas, and it allows their creativity to blossom without so many distractions.”

Even with the recent Thomas Fire burning away much of the vegetation surrounding the city, Ojai’s natural beauty has survived, said Teri Mettala, executive director of the Ojai Art Center, a multipurpose nonprofit space for the arts in downtown Ojai.

“I think since the fire those (views) are much more dramatic,” she said. “There’s a different kind of dramatic line to those mountains that are facing the valley. It’s beautiful.”

Christine Beirne, a board member of Ojai Studio Artists and member of the Ojai Arts Commission, said the city government itself has helped nurture the arts through funding and other support.

“The city is very supportive of the arts,” she said. “Just the fact that we have a budget and the city has its own art collection and we buy art every year, I think that makes a difference.”

Ojai Artist Cassandra C. Jones

Organic-Digital Mashup By Jessie Phelps Ojai Quarterly October 2016

Walking down Matilija Street and glancing towards the Porch Gallery, it's likely the first thing youll notice is the neon "JPEG Mountain" sign having out front. If you let your eye be subsequently drawn in through the window to the interior, it will find a gorgeous moire pattern adorning an interior wall, buzzing with color.

Only once you enter the gallery and look much closely will see it's entirely made of balloon shapes, each individual colored cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Together in print, and seen from a distance, the four hues of the CMYK subtractive color model harmonize and merge on their white background, subduing its brightness and giving the illusion of a fuller spectrum.

Titled "To See Me Take a Picture, CMYK," the print typifies ideas present throughout the work of Ojai artist Cassandra C. Jones. Deftly a painstakingly using technology to curate and rearrange found digital images, Jones creates collage works that sing with tint and metaphor.

Gallery co-director Lisa Casoni says all the ideas in play in the art made teaming up with the Jones a no-brainer. "We loved the concept behind how she works and what she was working on."

Aside from her own archival copy, Jones creates only two renderings of each piece, maintaining value through scarcity. Space is repeated in the gallery show, which dedicates plenty of wall around each individual piece.

Jones who holds a BFA from California College of Art and her MFA from Carnegie Mellon University, has an analytical mind. Her art is intellectual, high-concept and fill with with meaning; some of the work challenges and inspires, perhaps, discomfort, even as it soothes the eye.

Some of the metaphors, however, find power in simplicity and accessibility. A piece entitled "Fresh Water" takes a sunset seen through a single drop of water and duplicates the drop many times over, arranging it, pearl-like, into a necklace space. The result is both dramatic and beautiful, and the message is clear: water, now more than ever, is very precious.

"That she turns (a single drop of water) into something that looks like a luxury item is just mind blowing to me. It's very thoughtful, it's very elegant, it's very smart," say Casoni.

The gallery's back room features a wallpaper with logo girls repeatedly bent back to touch their mirror images. The color palette suggest the work's Grecian inspiration in a medieval village called Pyrgi, know for its stunning, decorative black-and-white plaster carvings called "Xysta" also the name of the installation.

Jones, describes the piece, says, "I feel like it was a really good metaphor for how we can shape ourselves, how malleable we are."

Jones says her present journey began with a promised trip to Greece with her grandmother during grad school. Feeling somewhat bored in a small, remote village, she ultimately turned to her own interior, examining photo albums of family and sunsets. She collected photographs of those sunsets and went to an internet cafe (this was 2003) with 10,000 photos and made a video from 1,500 of them.

It became her thesis project and it launched her career, ultimately showing it in "100 venues all over the world." She says, "It was its own snapshot into, sort of, a global culture. I saw things I had never seen through pictures of the sunset."

The experience of combing curation of found images with repetition to create a new dialectic hooked her, she says. "I wanted to look at photos every day. I wanted to dive into this as a life-long project."

Not long later, Jones met her husband, Mikael Jorgensen, keyboardist for the popular rock band Wilco, in New York. She says their mutual love of technology help bring them together. He is doing it sonically, Im doing it visually. We're just technophilias."

Working from her Ojai studio Jones describes a simultaneous appreciation and fear of nature, informing, perhaps, her approach that attempts to replicate and juxtapose its forms with her distinctly digital aesthetic.

This is exemplified by a piece hanging in the hallway at the Porch gallery, "Orchid Seeding 2." It features balloons reshaped into an architectural, but convincing, white orchid, dropping seeds. "The piece is about ideas that spread, and the seeds that get planted from people you know," says Jones.

Porch Gallery owner Casoni says the piece that really inspired Porch to team up with Jones is "Accumulation of Nameless Energies." Here Jones recombines and layers a single image of yellow birds hundreds of time into a standing bear, at once menacing, prettier, bold and incredibly detailed.

There's no question the show at Porch is a harmonious marriage of artist, art, and space. Jones said she's found a home in Ojai complete with an extremely artistically talented circle of friends.