When Maury Ornest died last summer, he left behind a cache of more than 1,000 paintings and scores of sketchbooks — the full extent of which his family only discovered after his death. This weekend, Ornest will finally have the survey exhibition he never had during his lifetime. For a story whose premise resembles the setup of Velvet Buzzsaw, this real-life version has a much sunnier and way less murder-y ending.
For starters, the work itself, while a bit obsessive and undeniably eccentric, is the opposite of ominous. Ornest had a proliferate fascination with flying fish and baseball, often combining motifs of Asian color and visual design with illustrative icons of Americana. While each painting of single or paired baseball-faced fancy fishes is a variation on a tight theme, each iteration brings a unique pastiche of color and pattern, from shimmering gold to vibrant natural images and expressive color-field passages full of rich texture and impassioned gesture.
But there was a truly daunting volume of work to sort through, so the family brought in some backup to help make the show as on-point and impactful as possible. Paige Wery of Chinatown’s Good Luck Gallery, which specializes in self-taught artists in the outsider, visionary and folk genres, assisted in selecting the paintings for the show. Artist Stephanie Pryor also helped to curate the exhibition, having taught Ornest at a UCLA Extension creative drawing workshop in 2010 and worked with him privately until 2012.
“I noticed right away that Maury had a special style,” Pryor said. “His work brings emotional joy to the viewer. His sense of optimistic determination resonates through each painting.” Wery concurs, and is happy to bring her expertise and perspective to a more focused appreciation of Ornest’s vision.
“I believe it’s time to show the world how my brother, while enduring severe mental illness, was still able to express joy and vibrancy, hopefulness, silliness and even whimsy,” Laura Ornest said in a statement. “I want to do for him what he couldn’t do for himself.”
“Mo’s Show: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Maury Ornest” will be held from noon to 5 p.m. on Sat., Feb. 23, and Sunday, Feb. 24, at 524 N. Elm Drive in Beverly Hills, where Maury Ornest lived and painted.
All proceeds from sales will benefit Beyond Differences, Craft Contemporary (L.A.’s Craft & Folk Art Museum), Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, InsightLA, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Kehillat Israel, the Friends of the Semel Institute at UCLA and Vista Del Mar Child & Family Services.