“Great surf, punk rock, great Mexican food, the best strawberries.” This is what people think of when they think of Oxnard, says artist and educator Brian Paumier. He and Jaime Bailon, a conceptual photographer, are looking to add something else to the list: great art.

The talent and potential are here; artists simply need support, experience and a safe place to create. That is where The Oxnard Plain Collective comes in. Started by Bailon and Paumier, the artist-run group is dedicated to the “development of lens-based artists at critical moments in their careers.” Simply put, The Oxnard Plain Collective’s mission is to help bring young artists to a larger audience.

It all began when Paumier was teaching at Ventura College and saw the need for a venue for young people to show their work. Bailon noticed something similar. “Because I’ve stayed here my entire life,” says Bailon. “I’ve experienced [that] other creative individuals — they move to San Francisco, New York or L.A. There’s a cultural brain drain from Oxnard. It makes it difficult for people to want to create without a community.”

So when Paumier and Bailon connected, the creation of The Oxnard Plain Collective seemed to be nothing short of inevitable.

Jaime Bailon of The Oxnard Plain Collective. Photo by Emily Dodi

They met after a friend turned Paumier on to Bailon’s work. Bailon, who had gone through the art program at Ventura College, was self-publishing zines of his photography through The Oxnard Plain Press, which he founded. Paumier remembers thinking, “I’ve got to meet this guy.”

A year later, when Paumier became a board member of CAM Cornerstones, he asked Bailon to bring The Oxnard Plain Press to the CAM Studio Gallery, which is adjacent to the Carnegie Art Museum. (CAM Cornerstones is a nonprofit organization that manages the Carnegie Art Museum and the CAM Studio Gallery, which are both owned by the city of Oxnard.) Bailon accepted and The Oxnard Plain Press became a permanent fixture in the studio. It is here that Bailon creates, publishes and sells his zines, as well as those of other artists. (The Oxnard Plain Press zines can also be purchased online at www.oxnardplain.com.)

Creating The Oxnard Plain Collective was the next logical step. Paumier and Bailon put out an open call to local artists to come show their work. Geographically speaking, The Oxnard Plain covers more than 200 square miles, encompassing Oxnard, a large part of Ventura and other communities. Philosophically speaking, the Collective extends those boundaries north to Santa Barbara, out to Ojai and as far south as the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains. It also extends its reach to young artists who work in other mediums besides photography. The Collective’s attitude is welcoming and supportive. Sometimes, Paumier notes, artists just walk in and say, “Can you help me?” He and Bailon remember when a photographer they didn’t know came in with his portfolio and Bailon helped him create a zine of his work.

There is nothing intimidating about the Collective. It is simply impressive. Paumier and Bailon are unassuming, but their passion for art and community is serious, as is their dedication to making art possible.

“We want our programming for the people of Oxnard,” says Paumier. “We want to inspire and motivate young image makers: You can do this, too!”

The Oxnard Plain Collective held its first meeting in January 2018. Today it has a core group of about 12 artists, with others who drop in from time to time. The space has evolved to accommodate the artists’ needs. “The space fits like a glove,” Paumier says, “It was kind of meant to be.”

“We treat [the Collective] like a mini-MFA (Master of Fine Art),” explains Paumier, “where we have a reading or a film at the beginning of our ‘crits’ [critique sessions] and then talk

Brian Paumier of The Oxnard Plain Collective. Photo by Emily Dodi

about it to break the ice. Then we put work up on the wall and talk about it.”

The experience is invaluable. The artists are able to “test-drive ideas” and it gives them a chance to have a studio practice with other artists. As an artist, Paumier explains, “You should be in conversation. There should be some sort of skills exchange.”

“It’s the best education you can have,” he adds. “Without this sort of space you wouldn’t have that experience to draw back on for that big commercial show or for that big museum show.”

The Collective had its first group show this past June. Leading up to the show, the artists learned how to price their work, how to finish (frame) it, and how to present it. The show featured the works of Paumier, Bailon, Amy Etkins, Hugo Castillo, Jack Adams, Joseph Ipatzi, Mark Giorgione, Nathan Asplund, Rob Ipatzi, Shamis Luna and Vanessa Wallace-Gonzales. Perhaps the most valuable experience for the artists, beyond the validation of selling their work — often to people who they

“Relics” by Joseph Ipatzi. Photo courtesy of Jaime Bailon

didn’t expect — was the experience of putting their work out into the world.

Some of the artists have already gone on to have solo shows. Etkins recently opened her Photographs of Contemporary Masculinity at Orange Coast College (through Dec. 1) in Costa Mesa. Vanessa Wallace-Gonzales had a residence at the CAM Studio, with her solo exhibition Artifacts from a Butterfly’s Meconium opening this past August. Born in Ventura, Wallace-Gonzales credits being part of the Collective for helping to open the door to the residency program. Both experiences have been invaluable. “The best part is having this pool of creative minds,” she says, from which to draw information and inspiration.

With its first group show under its belt, the Collective is applying for admission to the Spring/Break Art Show in New York in March.“It’s a really good venue . . . to sell and get feedback,” says Paumier.

Bailon just returned from New York, where he exhibited The Oxnard Plain Press at the New York Art Book Fair in September. He exhibited his own zines as well as zines he collaborated on with other artists. “It was really exciting to get this stuff in front of that many people,” says Bailon. (About 40,000 people visited the fair.) “It was really well received.” In fact, the website Hyperallergic named The Oxnard Plain Press one of the “8 Zines You Want to Know About.” (https://hyperallergic.com/461690/zines-nyabf-2018/)

Why does Bailon think the zines made such an impact? “[The Oxnard Plain Press] really stood out as a distinct voice in representing the region that we’re from,” says Bailon. “That’s what Brian and I are really trying to do. Just bring that to a larger audience.”

“That’s our biggest goal — supporting young artists to the world stage,” adds Paumier.

“Untitled,” Jaime Bailon. Photo courtesy of Jaime Bailon

“We want the space and the Collective to be a catalyst for the kinds of interactions [between] artists and people who have decision-making power.” He mentions how Jack Adams, a Collective member who also attended the Art Book Fair, was able to speak with people from the New York art world. “That’s what we want to activate — to help advance these young artists’ careers.”

The most exciting developments, however, might be happening closer to home. A clue might be in how the local art world is reacting to the Collective and the CAM Studio Gallery. After viewing Vanessa Wallace-Gonzales’s work, Mary Joyce Winder, Vice President of Santa Barbara Museum of Art Docent Board, wrote, “Bravo to this place and space,” signing her letter, “Impressed and awestruck.” Winder later said, “I can’t applaud them enough. They are doing true outreach.”

A few of the SBMA docents who toured the CAM Studio lamented that Oxnard was difficult to get to from Santa Barbara — until Paumier pointed out that the train stops a few blocks away. He has already turned some of his L.A. friends on to taking the train to Oxnard.

“It’s so interesting when friends come and see the space and the rest of Downtown Oxnard,” says Paumier. “They say this could really be an amazing artist hub. It could turn into a Marfa, Texas, or Dia:Beacon, New York.”

“Why not? A lot of buildings are empty around here. Why not activate them with this kind of energy?”

He adds, “I’m really proud of where I come from. I’m born and raised in Oxnard, California. I kind of wear it as a badge, and it’s just because I’ve learn so much from what I call the cultural amalgam that happens here. We have so many different heritages here to be inspired by that it is a magical place.”

Look out, Marfa.

The Oxnard Plain Collective at the CAM Studio Gallery, 329 N. Fifth Street, Oxnard. For information, call 805-240-7347 or visit  www.carnegieam.org/cam-studio-gallery.