Deep, Dark Worlds

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Dennis McNett and Peter Benke present deeply imagined visions of today’s world.

Section by Hannah Ostrow

Peter Benke, Carnevale

Home base: Originally from San Diego, currently resides in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Background: Self-taught photographer—he built his own darkroom when he was in high school.

Media of choice: Underwater photography on canvas, often digitally composed of hundreds of images and layered on top of acrylic backdrops.

Previously shown in: Denver; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Aspen, Colo.; San Diego; Santa Barbara, Calif.

Work: Peter Benke’s canvases encapsulate an entire imagined world—the classical female form is released from its marble pedestal, draped in chiffon and thrown against romantic acrylic backdrops. His work is both timeless and modern, with figures not created from marble or paint but rather from photographs of real models, dancers and athletes, shot in an underwater studio and layered into the artist’s dream world. Peter’s method of shooting subjects in a crystalline pool lends an elegance to their postures that would be difficult to mimic otherwise. They appear weightless, quite simply, because they were captured in a state of near weightlessness.

It’s a scene you might expect to see in a painting on a Baroque-era ceiling—nude figures float against vibrant backdrops in a fluid composition whose otherworldliness is anchored only by the classical architecture that appears periodically in the background. Classical Greek columns appear beneath flowing fabrics that swim around the models, making the compositions almost collage-like. As canvases, they are layered, dramatic and dense—alternate worlds grounded in the reality of the human form.

Catch Peter’s deeply imagined works on display at LGOCA. (949-715-9604;

Dennis McNett, Last Breath
“Last Breath”

Dennis McNett (AR4T)

Home base: Born and raised in Virginia Beach, Va., a New Yorker since 2001.

Background: Bachelor of Fine Arts from Norfolk University, Master of Fine Arts from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute.

Media of choice: Primarily known for his woodcarvings and prints made from hand-cut wood blocks, as well as sculpture, installation, hand-carved masks, graphics and papier mache collage works.

Previously shown in: Copenhagen, Denmark; New York; Milan; London; Santa Monica, Calif.; San Francisco; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Austin, Texas. Designed shoes for Vans, skateboards for Anti Hero and had work in a display for Barneys New York.

Work: The artist describes his own work as “surly,” which is not quite self-explanatory when we’re talking woodcuts and carvings. They certainly aren’t tame—often depicting feral animals against deep earth-toned backdrops, incarnations of primal rage, serenity or fear. Borrowing heavily from Greek and Nordic mythology, as well as Mexican ancestral tradition and long-standing narratives from the animal kingdom, Dennis’ work exists within his own unique narrative mythology. Subjects reappear across media, transformed, recreated and re-envisioned—wolves, serpents, owls, human skulls. Spiritual, animalistic and often sinister, the works recall primitive art more than something of Brooklyn in the 21st century.

Dennis’ show, “Wolfbat Meditations,” continues at AR4T through Aug. 11. (949-988-0603;

Unreal Reality

From the ocean floor to the hospital’s cancer wing to the everyday experience, each of Laguna Art Museum’s summer exhibitions reflect, reveal or distort various realities—all drawing on Southern California contemporary art.

“Faux Real”

The artists of “Faux Real” all mirror everyday reality with a twist—an armchair in stainless steel, a security camera in painted porcelain, bread loaves immortalized in oil paintings. By placing quotidian objects in a new light, the exhibition raises questions of authenticity in the age of reproductions, while also unpacking America’s ubiquitous consumerism. The show features work from some of Southern California’s most-talked-about contemporary artists—Cheryl Ekstrom, Sandow Birk, Richard Shaw, Kim MacConnel and more.

“Sea Change: Tanya Aguiñiga’s Bluebelt Forest”

Through May 2014, Tanya Aguiñiga’s installation takes over the museum’s upper level gallery, recreating the underwater forest that exists off Laguna’s shoreline. Commissioned by the museum specifically for the space, the LA-based artist fashioned kelp, coral and barnacles from a variety of materials, primarily textiles. Somewhere at the intersection of craft and fine art, her distinctive work makes “Sea Change” an entirely interactive experience—visitors can actually touch the art in question, allowing them to engage both with the museum and with the natural world in a unique way.

“Expose: Beatriz da Costa”

On the museum’s basement level, the fourth installment in Contemporary Art Curator Grace Kook-Anderson’s “Expose” series takes a somber step away from the vibrant “Sea Change” and the offbeat “Faux Real.” Beatriz da Costa passed away from breast cancer in December 2012 after a long struggle, which her work addresses head on.

Like the museum’s other two shows, however, Beatriz’s work reinterprets reality to engage viewers in a new way. “Dying for the Other,” a triptych video installation, juxtaposes mice in breast cancer research alongside scenes from the artist’s treatment, questioning the morality of medical research.

The exhibition also features an “Anti-Cancer Survival Kit,” full of information, illustrated guides, instructions for planting an “anti-cancer garden” and interactive games. It’s a lighthearted approach to an otherwise grim reality, one that attempts to lift social taboos and bring clarity to a post-diagnosis world. (949-494-8971;

hallway_updateMural Design Selected for Lifeguard Headquarters

Laguna Beach’s Arts Commission recently selected Laguna Beach sculptor and painter Terry Thornsley’s design as the winning proposal for a mural that will adorn the lifeguard headquarters on Main Beach, set to be completed in spring 2014.

The mural competition, which was open to artists in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties, drew 28 applicants, from which the commission chose four finalists before finally selecting the proposal from Terry.

Terry’s proposed work, entitled “Grace,” will be accompanied by a sculpture, also sponsored by the arts commission, the design for which had not yet been selected as of press time.

Gallery Events


This summer, LGOCA welcomes a diverse range of contemporary artists for a group exhibition, including this issue’s featured artist, Peter Benke. Stop by during August’s First Thursdays Art Walk for wine tasting, hors d’oeuvres and live music. (949-715-9604;

JoAnne Artman Gallery

Beginning July 1, JoAnne Artman features new works from Laguna heavyweight James Verbicky, whose innovative mixed media works blur the lines between painting and sculpture. “James Verbicky: The Great and Powerful” runs through the end of August, with a special reception Aug. 1 during art walk. (949-510-5481;

Sandstone Gallery

July at Sandstone brings “Pressing Matters,” featuring mixed media block prints from Anne Moore as well as “Works on Paper,” highlighting Lynn Welker’s landscapes. Both shows run through July 29. In August, catch Mada Leach with “Light Flashes,” as well as works from Victoria Smith Porcello. (949-497-6775;

Exclusive Collections Gallery

Stop by Exclusive Collections for the gallery’s anniversary show on the weekend of July 13 – 14. Later in the month, don’t miss the seventh annual miniatures show from July 27 – 28. (949-715-8747;

Demossa Gallery

Ecuadorian, Miami-based painter Jovan Karlo Villalba creates heavily textured and highly imaginative landscapes that bridge the gap between the real and the abstracted. His enchanting work is on display at the Demossa Gallery through July 21. (949-500-2107;

Steven Vasquez Lopez, Our Place Our Space
“Our Place, Our Space” by Steven Vasquez Lopez at CES Contemporary

“Future Tense,” CES Contemporary’s summer group exhibition, explores the limitless scope of contemporary art, featuring works from CES’ regular roster as well as special guest artists, and three new additions to the gallery—Steven Vasquez Lopez, Jeff Peters and Zin Helena Song. The extended show now runs through Sept. 5. (949-547-1716;

Townley Gallery

Townley’s 2013 group show features works from leading contemporary artists across a variety of mediums, including large-scale oil paintings from gallery founder and owner Shane Townley. (949-715-1860;

Peter Blake Gallery

In celebration of the gallery’s 20th anniversary, Peter Blake’s summer group show continues through the end of August, featuring minimalist abstractionist and reductive works from more than 30 renowned artists worldwide. (949-376-9994;

DeRu’s Fine Arts

July at DeRu’s brings a selection of highlights from the gallery’s early California impressionists. In August, don’t miss “Early California Impressionists: Painting the Light and Color of the California Landscape.” (949-376-3785;

Signature Gallery

August at Signature Gallery features the work of artist Vince Broglio, whose lifetime of surfing has inspired his wave-like resin sculptures and one-of-a-kind free-form bowls. (949-376-4244;


“Wolfbat Meditations” marks the return of Dennis McNett, who exhibited with great success at AR4T in 2012. This year’s follow-up show features Dennis’ signature animalistic woodcut prints as well as installations and collage pieces. The show runs through Aug. 11. (949-988-0603; LBM


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