PICTURED: Roger Dean, “Relayer,” mixed media and watercolor. Photo courtesy Michael Pearce/CLU

by Emily Dodi

Step into The Otherworld at the William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art at California Lutheran University, “an exhibit of visionary paintings by artists who imagine the world as another place where alternatives to everyday reality are made manifest, and landscapes, animals, and people are transformed.”

On view through Feb. 3, the exhibit features an array of paintings that represent some of the best examples of the psychedelic art movement, including the iconic “Relayer” by Roger Dean, Rick Griffin’s famous “flying eyeball” Jimi Hendrix concert poster, and works by Alex Grey and Mars-1.

The Otherworld is the brainchild of artist and CLU professor Michael Pearce, who guest-curated the exhibit. “It started to germinate in my head two years ago,” Pearce explains, adding that “psychedelic art is making a big comeback. It captures the Zeitgeist of the time . . . and like all great art, it is telling us our own story.”

Pearce is quick to note that the exhibit is not about LSD, nor does it endorse illicit drug use. “It’s about the visionary state, which can exist in many forms,” not just chemical. Pearce also adds that psychedelic imagery has been around since ancient times, long before the 1960s brought it to the forefront. Yet it is largely missing from art history. If The Otherworld is any indication, that is about to change.

“The art is so strong. You can’t ignore it,” Pearce exclaims.  

One of the centerpieces of The Otherworld is Dean’s “Relayer,” made famous as an album cover for progressive rock band Yes in 1974. 

Pearce confesses he nearly cried when he picked it up for the exhibit. “It’s like a religious icon.”

The rest of the exhibit is just as powerful. A particular standout is “Bicycle Day,” a collaboration by Mars-1, an up-and-coming artist based in San Francisco, and Alex Grey, whose paintings are now fetching upwards of $250,000 at auction. 

“Nuclear Mystics” is another work in the exhibit by Mars-1, who Pearce says “epitomizes contemporary sci-fi psychedelia. His work is very dutifully gentle and calming. [Nuclear Mystics] just keeps giving and giving. There is so much material there. You can construct your own narrative about it,” which Pearce adds is a vital attribute of great art. “Art is supposed to be a conversation.”

Carl Dobsky, “The Gibbering Soul,” oil on Linen, 54 x 66. Photo courtesy Michael Pearce/CLU

Indeed, at The Otherworld’s opening reception, most people were transfixed by the art. “It was a ball,” Pearce recalls. “It was not hushed and gloomy. It was exciting and fun.” That seems to be the extraordinary effect The Otherworld has on people. 

While visiting The Otherworld, a wander over to the Kwan Fong Gallery is highly recommended. The gallery is hosting Carl Dobsky: Now Is the Happiest Time of Your Life. Also curated by Pearce, the exhibit celebrates “one of America’s finest figurative painters . . . who makes large oil paintings about contemporary society with amazing perception.”

The Otherworld and “the real world” are both awaiting you at CLU.

The Otherworld (William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art) and Carl Dobsky: Now Is the Happiest Time of Your Life (Kwan Fong Gallery) are both on exhibit through Feb. 3 at California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks. For more information, call 805-493-3697 or visit rollandgallery.callutheran.edu or blogs.callutheran.edu/kwanfong/2021/10/27/carl-dobsky-now-is-the-happiest-time-of-your-life/.