Sitting in Jophen Stein’s Pomona apartment, surrounded by well-thumbed copies of The Art of War, Crime and Punishment, and A Tale of Two Cities, the final product of his artistic pursuits seems almost a foregone conclusion: ingenious art that harkens back to the past in contemporary terms, commenting on the state of affairs of the world in what he calls a “tongue-in-cheek reference between antiquity and modernity.” Though he was a part of the IE group show in Orange County, “Bittersweet on Batterfields” is the San Bernardino-born artist’s first actual show in the IE.
“I always felt like culture was outside of the IE,” he says, having run with graffiti crews in LA growing up. Now he concedes that, “there are tons of artistic people here . . . they are just sort of diffused.” These days his art brings it all together, with his IE upbringing showing up in his pieces.
“Last year’s show, I was pulling nostalgia from the area, based on the citrus industry. I mixed the orange pulp with pulp comics, playing on those words.”
Though he strays, Stein keeps coming back—even after receiving his education at the Art Center of Pasadena and the Laguna College of Art and Design. When asked about what keeps him coming back, his response is a little uncertain, but understandable: “I’m not sure, cheaper living . . . I don’t know. My family lives out here, that center, knowing the area.”
Stein’s nostalgia is only one element to be found in his art—more pointedly, he takes events from contemporary life and mixes them into a historical context. For instance, in this series at the Claremont Forum his subject is the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. These themes are “correlated with the war now,” he says, adding that, “the origin of the word terrorist came from la Terreur during the French Revolution, when the Jacobins used a lot of the same rhetoric that the neo-conservatives use now.” Such parallels interest Stein.
In the current show, Stein uses maps and game boards “to explore the relation to predetermined outcomes, as far as something is laid out and planned and outside of people’s control.” With historical references and subtle exploration of philosophical questions, there’s still a humorous element to the slightly exaggerated features of the characters in his work (a hallmark of his Snootson Family Showcase), and a certain levity to the pieces overall.
“I don’t want to say it’s not serious,” he says, “but I don’t want to say that it is.” (Shaun Rosenstein)
Jophen Stein at The Claremont Forum, 586 West 1st Street, Claremont, (909) 626-3066, www.claremontforum.org. Show Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22. 7pm–10pm. Free.