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‘Radical Retrospective’

G. Ray Kerciu’s Art On Display in Begovich Gallery

March 28, 2013

Mississippi Series

G. Ray Kerciu’s “Never” from his Mississippi series.

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When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that James Meredith was legally entitled to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962, the arrival of the first African-American student at the segregated school sparked a significant flash point in the civil rights movement. At the same time, a young newly appointed art instructor at Ole Miss, G. Ray Kerciu, used his oversized canvases to capture the rioting that engulfed the campus as Federal marshals faced off against militant segregationists.
 
A photo of Kerciu in front of “America the Beautiful,” his oil painting of a graffiti-covered Confederate flag, was featured on the covers of newspapers and magazines, including Time and Artnews. That image and others in his 1963 Ole Miss solo exhibition drew the ire of infuriated segregationists and propelled Kerciu into the national spotlight.
 
“I was only a reporter,” the 79-year-old Laguna Beach resident recalled. “I just recorded all that really nasty, nasty stuff. . . . I just put it on canvas.”

Kerciu’s numerous supporters included luminaries like Malcolm X and John Steinbeck.

Months later, Kerciu joined the faculty at Cal State Fullerton and for the next 39 years championed multiple causes on campus and in the larger community. Kerciu, who founded the university’s printmaking area of study, was instrumental in founding the Grand Central Art Center and in the merger of the Laguna Art and Newport Harbor museums that formed the Orange County Museum of Art. He retired in 2002.

Today, the emeritus professor of art, and curators Mike McGee, professor of art, and Concepción Rodríguez, art graduate student, are preparing to open “G. Ray Kerciu: Radical Retrospective” in Begovich Gallery. Among the artworks representing his career will be those 50-year-old paintings capturing the uproar that roiled that bastion of the Old South.

In his forward to the exhibition catalogue, McGee writes: “It is generally not in Kerciu’s nature to be a passive observer. In most of the places he has found himself, he has been, at a minimum, an active participant and, more often than not, in the middle of things, stirring the pot and rallying others to get involved.”
 
Kerciu said that when he was young and idealistic he thought that “by 40, 50 years, we won’t even be talking about race and n‑words and about cultures that are threatening the great white population. I really thought that it would be over, but I was wrong. It’s not over.”

The fight for social justice continues, Kerciu stresses.

“When you see injustice, you have to stand up and fight,” he said. “There’s just too much injustice in this world, and my message to young college students is that they must fight for equality. That’s the importance of knowledge and wisdom.”

An opening reception will be held from 5-8 p.m. April 13. The show continues through May 25. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday and noon to 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 657-278-2434.

By: Mimi Ko Cruz, 657-278-7586

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