Camille Rose Garcia wants to take art lovers “Down the Rabbit Hole.”
In her solo show, running Feb. 29 through March 25 at Cuesta College’s Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery, the Northern California artist explores “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” through a surreal, psychedelic lens.
Rather than a pert young girl in a prim pinafore, Garcia’s Alice is a fragile, thin-limbed figure whose wide, lush-lashed eyes leak inky ropes of tears. Her ruffled lavender dress bells like a jellyfish. Her black hair bow resembles a bat.
“It’s such a strange story (yet) so enduring,” Garcia, 45, said of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale.
She’ll speak about her work Friday at an opening reception. Her show coincides with two other Cuesta events: Edúcate — Sí, Se Puede Conference, March 18 in San Luis Obispo, and the Book of the Year program presented by Cuesta and the San Luis Obispo County Public Library.
Cuesta fine arts instructor David Prochaska said the Garcia show is the latest gem in “a year of fine exhibitions.”
As curator of the Miossi Art Gallery, he’s worked to bring in “a variety of artists from outside our area as a means of strengthening our department’s ability to expose students to the diversity of art being created around the state,” he said.
“The gallery remains one of our most important teaching tools and … truly a public treasure,” Prochaska said.
Garcia’s career path was shaped in part by her bohemian upbringing. Her father, a Mexican activist filmmaker, and her mother, a muralist and sign painter, divorced when she was 1 year old, but both had an influence on her creatively.
“I grew up going to art museums from an early age, surrounded by music and literature,” said Garcia, who apprenticed to her mom at age 14. “It didn’t seem out of the question to grow up and be an artist.”
Garcia spent her youth in the suburbs of Orange County, dividing her time between Disneyland and punk rock concerts.
“The music … informed my concepts about what to make the artwork about,” she said, noting how bands such as The Clash and Dead Kennedys created politically charged music with pop-culture appeal that “wasn’t too high-falutin’.” “I’ve always enjoyed making work that could be consumed by a part of popular culture but also had an underlying message if you look(ed) deep enough.”
Garcia gleaned her trippy visual vocabulary from animators Walt Disney, who created Mickey Mouse and his cartoon pals, and Max Fleischer, who brought Betty Boop and Popeye to the silver screen. Author/illustrator Edward Gorey and “The Addams Family” fed her sense of dark humor, while Beat writer William S. Burroughs and avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky nourished her appreciation of the absurd.
All those influences are apparent in Garcia’s layered narrative paintings, described as “wasteland fairy tales” with a satirical slant.
She pairs exaggerated characters with dreamy backgrounds, seeding her scenes with a personal language of symbol and archetypes.
“There’s always a certain amount of intellectual exploration that informs (my art), but at the same time I’m not afraid of being popular,” Garcia said. And, the artist added, she’s not averse to a change of scenery.
In 2007, she moved from Los Angeles to Gasquet, a tiny town near the border between California and Oregon.
“When I moved out here, my art changed focus,” said Garcia, adding that living “out in the woods” has inspired “an appreciation and a subtle respect for nature and the land we’re on.” “It’s a great place for a studio. There’s … not a lot of people around, so you can really monk out and dive deep into a show or a theme or a body of work.”
Although Garcia has earned acclaim as an artist whose works grace the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the San Jose Museum of Art, she’s equally well known for her work as an illustrator.
Her illustrations can be found in modern versions of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Snow White” and “Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper.” She’s also the author of the graphic novel “The Magic Bottle.”
When Harper Collins approached Garcia about illustrating its 2010 edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” first published in 1865, “My first thought was, ‘No, the original illustrations are so iconic. They’re so great,’” she recalled. “I thought, ‘There’s really no way to improve on these.’”
But she ultimately couldn’t resist the challenge of paying tribute to John Tenniel’s wood engravings while giving the text a colorful new twist.
Garcia noted that the non-linear narrative takes place in a “fun, psychedelic world” laden with danger and drug imagery. “Most of the characters are pretty mean to (Alice) and a little crazy,” she said.
Garcia said she was drawn to the idea of entering a portal to a different dimension.
“In the world that (Alice) lives in, Victorian women have a certain place. There are a lot of rules,” the artist explained. “She’s freed from all of these constraints when she enters this other dimension.
“She’s freed from being a child. She’s freed from being a woman. She’s freed from anything being orderly or making any sense.”
Many children’s stories share a similar theme of escape and exploration, she added.
“As children, we imagine that that’s possible, and then when we become adults, we think that’s not so possible anymore,” Garcia said.
Fortunately, she added, art has the ability to expand one’s point of view. “I like the idea of music, art and color being able to shift your perception. I think that’s really fascinating,” Garcia said.
Camille Rose Garcia
Noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, first and third Sundays; through March 25
Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery, Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo
546-3202 or www.cuesta.edu
Meet the artist
Garcia will speak about her work at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. The opening reception runs 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.