Widely considered one of Orange County’s foremost living artists, Tony DeLap has produced a body of work that stands apart from the styles commonly embraced in the Southland. The 90-year-old DeLap builds “hyperbolic paraboloids”—shaped canvasses that are hybrids of painting and sculpture that appear to change shape as the viewer moves around them. Their titles, including The Honest Ace and Queen Zozer, pay homage to the artist’s lifelong hobby and love of magic.
The Illusions and Anti-Illusions of
by Tom Lamb
This spring, through May 28, visitors to the Laguna Art Museum will have an opportunity to view 80 of DeLap’s works from collections around the country in Tony DeLap: A Retrospective. Covering the artist’s career from the early 1960s to the present, the exhibition is curated by L.A.-based critic and poet Peter Frank, who has been writing about DeLap’s work since the 1970s. As Frank explains in the accompanying catalog, DeLap “wants to make art that awakens its beholders to the eloquence of form and to the circumstantial nature of perception … that is well crafted, whether by hand or by machine, whether out of artmaking materials that go back millennia or out of the latest synthetic substances and processes—ideally, all in combination … that stays universal by staying personal, that honors aesthetic ideologies by merging them, and that shrugs off the art market’s tendentious demands by simply sticking to its guns.”
Today DeLap, a serene and focused nonagenarian, looks back at his several-decade career of making art and teaching as a founding member of the UC Irvine faculty. The arc of his life is one of continual inspiration, experimentation and of flow within his individual works and from one work to the next. For much of the past 60 years, he has adhered to the principles of Southern California Minimalism—art that is deceptively simple in form and color while eschewing decorative and figurative elements.
DeLap is also associated with other 20th century movements, including Hard-edge painting, which emphasized specific, defined areas of color, and California Light and Space, which was characterized by its use of industrial materials designed to capture and reflect light. Yet working primarily within the minimalist style, DeLap has stretched its boundaries, creating seemingly simple artworks that nevertheless enchant and mystify viewers through their organic and often meandering three-dimensional shapes. His pieces flawlessly interweave minimalism, the art of anti-illusion, with magic, the art of illusion.
While some minimalists have rejected the actual process of building their own artworks, DeLap almost always constructs his canvasses and sculptures. He saws his own wood, stretches and paints his canvasses, and experiments with structures and materials, including metal, fiberglass, molded plastics and fabrics. The results are wall-mounted, low-relief, mixed-media constructions that are so distinctive that they almost defy description. The artist also builds freestanding aluminum, fiberglass and wooden sculptures.
Supporting and inspiring DeLap’s endeavors is his beloved wife Kathy, who has assiduously tracked and catalogued his growing body of work over the years and has lived with him in the same Corona del Mar home near the ocean since 1965. In addition, she has helped raise their two creative children, who now have children of their own.
DeLap has spent his entire life near the water. He was born in Oakland in 1927 and witnessed the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge (completed in 1937) from the windows of his home. This activity inspired his interest in building model cars and planes as a child and, later, constructing his art. In the 1950s and early ‘60s, he worked at various jobs, taking on trade show exhibitions and graphic design gigs while creating his early collages, paintings and sculpture at night. He became an art professor in San Francisco and then landed a job at UC Davis. In the mid-1960s, he moved to Orange County, where he became part of the original, experimental UC Irvine faculty.
Before opening his current studio adjacent to his home, DeLap rented a large workspace in Costa Mesa, then a thriving shipbuilding hub filled with highly skilled shipwrights. Learning from his neighbors, he honed his construction abilities while evolving as a craftsman as well as an artist. Over the years, DeLap has exhibited in hundreds of museums and galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The current Laguna Art Museum retrospective, the first major show of his work since OCMA’s 2000 Tony DeLap exhibition, is a unique opportunity to enjoy the past six decades of the artist’s exciting work.
For more information visit www.LagunaArtMuseum.org