On a recent afternoon, artist Rick Carter sat on a park bench finishing a chocolate from a box of See’s Candies.
It wasn’t any park bench. A full-size replica of the iconic “Forrest Gump” prop was given by producers to key creatives, including Carter, who was the film’s production designer. “It has been in my backyard since 1994,” Carter said, “personalized through my experiences of being part of the group that made ‘Forrest Gump’ and by all the conversations with friends that I’ve had on it since.”
The weathered wooden structure now is part of an exhibition at El Segundo’s art laboratory, ESMoA, that celebrates Carter’s Academy Award-winning career — as well as the power of movie imagery.
“Experience 51: Time,” which opened in May and runs through March 25, traverses the production designer’s four decades in Hollywood and his pivotal role creating the vivid worlds depicted in “Back to the Future,” “Jurassic Park,” “Forrest Gump,” “Avatar” and “Lincoln,” among others. Carter earned Oscars for the latter two for production design.
White spotlights around the gallery showcase Carter’s sketches and personal keepsakes. There’s a pair of Nike Cortez sneakers like the ones Tom Hanks (as Gump) wore, Carter’s “Jurassic Park” crew badge, and a touching note from director Steven Spielberg after production wrapped on “Munich.” Carter’s portrait paintings of friends are suspended from the ceiling on white cubes.
But ESMoA (formerly El Segundo Museum of Art) devotes more exhibit space to other artists’ interpretations of characters and themes from his movies. The show’s curator, Bernhard Zuenkeler, selected eight artists to produce their own renderings, pencil drawings and paintings fused onto fabric that came from downtown L.A.’s Garment District. Collectively, it forms a huge collage that lines the walls of the gallery.
The collage features the work of Alex Garcia, Luke Hayes, Muraji Khalil, Dalila Paola Méndez, Helena Park, Jacori “Aiseborn” Perry, Ivan “Mr Mustart” Petrovsky, Carlos “Kopyeson” Talavera — and Carter. Most of the artists are local, and two were featured in a 2014 ESMoA exhibition looking at graffiti and tattoo artists. For this show, artists presented their takes on iconic props and characters: a blue Na’vi from “Avatar,” a DeLorean from “Back to the Future” and the wise Maz Kanata, introduced in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a character inspired by a Palisades Charter High School English teacher who taught both the film’s director, J.J. Abrams, and Carter — although about 17 years apart.
Not a speck of space is wasted in ESMoA’s slim gallery, so the striking, 25-foot-high collage — which fuses all the artists’ work — initially can feel overwhelming. Even the floor is used for cinematic effect; one artist created a “force field,” or directional currents of energy, to tie together the various artworks, said Barbara Boehm, ESMoA’s director of operations.
Organizers hope that visitors will focus on individual works, triggering memories and emotional attachments to the films represented therein.
“We wanted it to be a big ‘wow,’ with a bunch of images and the fabric patterns,” said Hayes, who made a quilt from floral and pineapple fabric pieces and phrases from “Forrest Gump.” He also painted Michelle Pfeiffer’s look of horror from “What Lies Beneath” as her character nearly drowns in a bathtub.
“With Rick’s cinema history, there was a lot that we could incorporate,” Hayes said. “It was a fun process.”
Carter is proud the exhibition became less a retrospective of his work and more about empowering a younger generation of diverse artists who interpreted well-known film characters “on their own terms, and with their spray-can art,” the 72-year-old film veteran said.
“Now, some of these images have a new life outside of the movies but in a big collage that’s put together in a very free-associated way,” Carter said. “Hopefully, with a little bit of insight, you can get into a point of reference where you start to make some of the associations yourself.”
Earlier this year, Carter brainstormed with the artists, who then spent about three months creating their contributions to the show.
“We were trying to pick his brain a little,” said Talavera, who drew a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and intricate pencil drawings of the character Emmett “Doc” Brown from “Back to the Future.”
Said Talavera: “With everything, there was a story to it.”
Carter is quick to pay homage to “Mt. Rushmore up there,” he said, pointing to a quartet high on the gallery’s west wall. This piece depicts images of four film titans — Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron and Abrams — that Carter has worked closely with. Their films provide the tableau for the exhibition.
Zuenkeler, ESMoA’s chief curator, came up with the concept of the towering collage.
“Bernhard had this idea about wanting it to look like my brain,” Carter said. “And it is what it feels like.
“These are all works of art,” Carter added. “The imagery that you see is the artists’ imagery, but it’s resonating from the movie imagery.”
On Saturday, “Time” will be a featured attraction in El Segundo’s Art Walk festival, a free event held in the coastal city’s downtown and Smoky Hollow districts.
‘Experience 51: Time’
Where: ESMoA, 208 Main Street, El Segundo
When: Noon-5 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Through March 25.
Info: (424) 277-1020, esmoa.org/Visit