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Open Studio: California Smoke & Mirrors

  • Paul Frank Wagner Studio Via Matteotti 4 Vedano al Lambro Italy (map)
California smoke and mirrors.jpg

This Open Studio Event features select abstract drawings which were created by Paul Frank Wagner from 2017 to 2019 during his time in California. Behind the harmonious and seemingly innocent choice of layered colors and shapes, is an interpretation of America, different from that depicted in today’s media.

When first encountering this series of drawings, the viewer is met by a unified image. Upon a closer look, the observer is able to discern the multiple layers that make-up each work. The base layer  alternates between bright colors and soft pastels mirroring the colors of nature, featuring California’s trademarked golden sunsets.

This American Dream is obscured with a layer of vellum paper, clouded by the haze from the forest fires of giant centennial trees burning in the summertime, blurring the apparently laid-back and sunny land of opportunities. Here, we’re reminded of the dichotomy of Californian ‘nature-lovers’ ardently seeking ‘contact with Gaia’ yet unable to make contact with each other in the fear of offending a minority, basically anyone living in the Bay Area. This frosty feel-good ‘be-nice’ filter, camouflaged in Black Lives Matter and Taco Food Trucks, is served up with a blanket of marijuana smothering the air and mind, a mandatory vaccine needed to numb the relentless feeling of isolation that is sensed by its settlers, the gold diggers.

The black and white dots that blur into a visual dance on the vellum paper, address the underlying societal tensions: homelessness, the broken dreams on L.A.’s Venice Beach, racism, the growing economic gap between Techies and the rest of the enslaved population kept afloat by Uber shifts. The splashes of red and blue are reminiscent of the incessant sounds of police sirens and trains blowing their horns night after night, depriving residents from their restful sleep.

The underlying black circles create the rhythm that connect and balance the layers into one. They represent the Black culture, the pulse that holds America together. 

Finally, the artist’s uncontrollable desire to escape this insanity is topped by the wild and irregular circular grey pencil lines, designed to release the tension and give the viewer an outbreak to find their harmony through the smoke into the mirror of their own reality.