Great Park Exhibition Highlights 'Underground' Art Works by El Toro Marines

Dec 02, 2010, 13:19 ET from Orange County Great Park

IRVINE, Calif, Dec. 2, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Marines are trained to value "the unit" over the individual. This mindset is critical in the field, but during day-to-day life on the base, some artistically-minded Marines found ways to express themselves by using just about any flat surface as blank canvas. The buildings of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro revealed a history of rebellious creativity to a group of photographers documenting the base closure. A special exhibition at the Great Park shares these striking images.

While the buildings are mostly gone, the original underground artwork lives on through the work of those photographers -- The Legacy Group. The public is cordially invited to join the artists of the Legacy Group for dessert, coffee and lively conversation celebrating the special exhibition Phantoms Phorever: Art + Language at MCAS El Toro at the Orange County Great Park Visitors Center on Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 8:00 PM.

Phantoms Phorever: Art + Language at MCAS El Toro celebrates the memory of Jerry Burchfield (1947-2009), Legacy Group co-founder, and honors co-founders Mark Chamberlin and Clayton Spada as well as Jacques Garnier, Robert Johnson and Douglas McCulloh.  Their journey through MCAS El Toro's hangars, runways and support buildings with cameras at the ready, produced an incredible visual history of El Toro. Their work also resulted in "The Great Picture," the world's largest photo and camera, created on site in one of El Toro's historic hangars.

The photographs selected for this exhibition were culled from the group's archive of nearly 200,000 images of El Toro as it transitions into the Orange County Great Park. The exhibition investigates the relationship between twentieth century art and popular culture by showcasing the work of the six Legacy Group photographers.  Its arresting oversize photographs depict found site-specific art works made between 1943 and 1999 created by U.S. Marines while serving at El Toro and subsequently documented and interpreted by the Legacy Group in the course of innumerable photographic surveys of the former air base.  

Among the art works on exhibition is Pain Face by Legacy Group member Robert Johnson that expresses "the G.I. blues" by featuring an agonized, open-mouthed cartoon skull with a spiky crew cut. Like the ubiquitous Kilroy character of World War II and Korea fame, Pain Face appeared all over MCAS El Toro in surprising places. When its original creator, Jim Little, who currently resides on the East Coast happened to walk into the Park's Visitors Center several weeks ago he was extremely surprised to see his "underground" art work included in a museum-style installation.

"I almost fell over when I saw Pain Face," said Little. "I made a stencil and put him everywhere, on stop signs, on a railroad engine, in hangers, and best of all, spray painted him fifteen feet tall on the roof of a building so aircraft landing at El Toro could see him. Discovering Robert Johnson's art work has been the shock of my life. My wife and kids couldn't believe how excited I got when I saw it. I talked about it for two days straight. It means so much."

Phantoms Phorever: Art + Language at MCAS El Toro is curated by Great Park arts and culture consultant Henry Korn. An illustrated exhibition checklist with an essay by the curator is available free in the Great Park Visitors Center. For more information on the exhibition, visit For more information on the Legacy Group, visit

About the Great Park

The Orange County Great Park, with its 1,347-acre master plan, is the focal point of the redevelopment of the publicly-owned portion of the 4,700-acre former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. The Great Park is currently 27.5 acres and includes an iconic tethered helium balloon that rises 400 feet in the air, providing an aerial view of Park development. A $70 million development plan to expand the Park to more than 200 acres is currently underway. The plan will build out a core section of the Park for the most immediate and wide-ranging public benefit, including the initial components of the sports park, a 114-acre agricultural area, and an art and culture exhibition space. For more information, please go to

SOURCE Orange County Great Park