San Luis Obispo mixed-media artist Burl Vreeland doesn’t care if you like his work.
He’s content to follow the dictates of his own muse, which currently have him cobbling together colorful, abstract three-dimensional works from canvas, paint, paper and recycled wood.
“I don’t really care what people think, whether it’s good art or bad art,” said the self-taught artist, whose textured, layered collages feature movable shapes and tiles positioned on patterned backdrops. “I just want people to talk about it.”
Vreeland is one of several San Luis Obispo County artists participating in the group exhibition “Savages,” which runs Friday through Sept. 30 at Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo. An artist reception will be held 6 to 9 p.m. Friday during Art After Dark.
“Savages are people that are well honed in their skills, but (are) maybe outside of the fringes of the normal gallery-going experience that you have here” on the Central Coast, show curator Neal Breton explained.
According to Breton, the annual art exhibition has evolved a bit since it debuted at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles in 2013 as “Young Savages.”
With the first show, “I got my foot in the door and I wanted so many people to sneak in with me,” Breton said, resulting in a list of 28 artists between the ages of 17 and 38.
“This time, I had to be really picky, which was kind of hard,” Breton, 40, said. “I really had to think about the space I was getting and the kind of art that was expected.”
This year’s “Savages” lineup features 12 visual artists, a filmmaker and an installation artist — most of them familiar to local art lovers. They’re seasoned professionals who are “consistently good” and have ample experience under their belts, Breton said.
Participating Central Coast artists range from Cal Poly and Cuesta College lecturer Adrienne Allebe, whose dreamlike, colored pencil-and-paint abstracts writhe with mysterious meaning, to Grover Beach painter Lena Rushing, who explores ideas of identity, duplicity and danger in her fiercely feminist oil paintings.
Other local visionaries taking part in the show include mixed-media artist Mallory Ann, painter Bret Brown, collage artist Hope Kroll and tattoo artist Jill Wefeld. Breton, whose current series of paintings depicts nonchalant nudes lounging in and around swimming pools, also contributed pieces to “Savages.”
Participating in the “Savages” show was “a real no-brainer,” said Kroll, who creates her three-dimensional paper collages from thousands of images carefully cut out of vintage books by hand. The artist, who has lived in Paso Robles for 17 years, holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master of fine arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute.
Kroll, 47, cited filmmaker Terry Gilliam, who created surreal animated sequences for British sketch show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” as one influence.
“I didn’t care about the show as much as waiting for his animated collages to come on (screen), with all the pipes and the flowers and the feet,” she said. “I just thought, ‘Those are the highlights.’”
Kroll said she started out making resin book sculptures, but switched to collages after suffering a collapsed lung in 1996.
“I decided it was not good to keep using these toxic materials,” explained the artist, who has battled health problems including asthma since childhood. “Instead of (choosing) these books for how they looked on the outside, I started using them for what was inside.”
Given her medical history, it comes as no surprise that Kroll is drawn to images of human organs such as hearts and intestines. Images of birds and machine parts also crop up frequently in her work.
Her piece “Anger Illustrated” depicts a naked man surrounded by snarling animals, while “Madness” features a swirling mass of body parts, beetles, caterpillars, chameleons and moths.
Kroll regularly scours antique stores, eBay and used book stores for her materials, and even travels to the Bay Area to load up her car with books at Friends of the San Francisco Public Library sales. She stores her finds in her studio, a converted barn. Kroll doesn’t use anything printed past the 1950s, explaining that newer books tend to be poorer quality.
“There’s no way you can copy the kind of ink you find in an encyclopedia from 100 years ago on aged yellow paper,” the artist explained. “It gives (the piece) character.”
Vreeland, 31, finds a good portion of his materials in the trash.
“I get a lot of crap for stopping at dumpsters and going through them,” he said with a laugh. “I’m pulling stuff out of the garbage and making something out of it. There’s a little bit of guilt that comes with it (because) … it really didn’t cost me anything.”
The artist, who grew up in Shell Beach and attended Arroyo Grande High School, works in a roughly 1,000-square-foot studio in San Luis Obispo. It’s there that the sawdust and the spray paint flies.
“I’ve always preferred things that (involve) making marks. Photography has never been that interesting to me because I’m not physically sweating,” he explained. “Each time I go into that studio, I’m always excited to get there and start working.”
Vreeland’s subject matter ranges from outer space to swimming pools.
“Basically, it’s just ideas that I get when I’m driving,” he said. “I get the most inspiration when I’m moving. Certain ideas will pop up, and I’ll start exploring those, see what’s feasible and not feasible.”
“I want to cut and create my own path,” he added. “I don’t want to be just putting paint on canvas. That’s just too boring.”
IF YOU GOWhat:
‘Savages’ group art exhibition
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday reception. The show runs Friday through Sept. 30.
Where: Steynberg Gallery, 1531 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo
Information: Call Neal Breton at 234-7694 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.