Barbara McCarren and Jud Fine have a witty, thoughtful and accessible approach to their work that has made them among the hottest artists on the public arts scene.
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Arts in the Figueroa Corridor

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McCarren is working on designs for a number of new projects, including a Pacific Palisades gymnasium, with a humorous reference to the gymnasia of antiquity, where minds as well as bodies were trained. She is creating a series of “retired jerseys,” not of athletes but of writers who used to live in Pacific Palisades, like Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley.
“People asked what writers had to do with volleyball,” says McCarren, whose work always includes glancing references to a locale’s ecology or history. “It’s part of the Pacific Palisades history.”
Another of her projects is the King Road Golf Course in San Jose — reputedly the first time art has ever been incorporated into a golf course. Each tee-off area will have a bronze talisman, or good-luck symbol, such as a four-leaf clover (at the fourth hole) or a rabbit’s foot.
Among her completed projects are the Quotation Courtyard in the Culver City City Hall, composed of eight limestone panels etched with quotations dealing with the individual’s role in government. The quotations, ranging from Lao-tzu to Jane Addams to Albert Einstein, span 2,400 years of government and social action.
Another project is “Journey,” in the courtyard of the Montebello Corporate Yard Facility, a multi-media artwork in two and three dimensions that moves from the future and present into the past, using symbols and physical aspects of the history of Montebello.

"Foundation," Loyola Marymount University

A Facsimile of Henry David Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond shown sinking, without foundation. The stones surrounding the cabin are etched with a Thoreau quote about the transcendent value of art over materialism.

Finding the appropriate design fora public space can be a lengthy process, one that involves studying architect’s plans, meeting with elected officials and community groups and, for Fine and McCarren at least, “a lot of hanging out at the site.”
For the San Antonio project, for example, Fine paced off his designated site at the beginning of the trail and chatted with passers-by about the history of the neighborhood. Some told him about San Antonio’s unique Tejano culture and its early association with the Spanish missions.
Late in the visit, he was invited to a local low-rider festival. “I’d never been to a festival like that before,” he says. “I didn’t realize what a family-oriented thing the low-rider scene was.”
He was particularly struck by the lavish interiors of the customized cars on display. “They recalled the interiors of the Mexican baroque churches, with their bleeding Christs and thorns on the head,” he says. “When I got home, I told Barbara about it and she said, ‘There you go.’ ” The idea crystallized into Fine’s notion of continuity with the past. “The Tejanos who had built the mission churches are now making cars.”

Pershing Square,
Los Angeles

A selection of views (left) from the renovated downtown park, showing an earthquake faultline, fountain, telescopes with an orange grove beyond and the postcard bench at 5th and Hill Streets.

 

After a decade or so of shepherding projects through the system of city councils, art committees and community meetings, McCarren and Fine have acquired a battle-hardened appreciation for that way of producing art — democratic, popular, communal.
Doesn’t it squelch the artist’s need for creative freedom?
Producing gallery art, with its rigid groupings and schools, isn’t as free as it’s stacked up to be, they contend. “The studio artist accepts a set of criteria,” Fine says. “You can’t work in a certain way without automatically allying yourself with other bodies of work. All the freedom starts to evaporate. Humorously, there’s a greater degree of freedom in the public arena.”
When it all clicks in the public arena, when the funding sources and the community committees agree to a design, there’s a flush of unparalleled creative satisfaction that McCarren and Fine thrive on.
Such a moment came last fall in San Antonio, when Fine got final approval for his low-rider columns. “I was waiting for a man from the community who was going to talk against it,” Fine says, “saying that the design didn’t reference his community. But then he looked at the drawings again and changed his mind. He put away his speech and got up and said he liked it.”
Everyone went off to celebrate at a local bar.


 

 

 

Project Photography Courtesy McCarren/Fine

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Windward Plaza, Venice Beach Ocean Park

A sketch for the "Camel Column," part of a design for a newly created Windward Plaza, McCarren and Fine's contribution to the Venice Boardwalk refurbishment project. A column combining the 1904 dragon slide ride, a camel and a baroque pearl light acknowledges Venice of America as well as the precedent, Venice of Italy and its Piazza San Marco.

San Antonio Mission Trail

Columns and a Park announcing the start of a 12-mile bike, hike and auto trail.