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June 20, 1986|Robert McDonald

SAN DIEGO — "Gendai" at the Multicultural Art Gallery (425 Market St.) features 30 works in the print media by 14 contemporary Japanese artists.

Few of the works are weak, but there are also few that are strong.

The strongest are the two prints combining woodcut and photographic silk-screen techniques by Tetsuya Noda, an international print show prize winner of great distinction. His artistry is such that he can convey the beauty of domesticity as well as the drama of protest. Kazuo Umezawa is represented by elegant mezzotints with photo-like images of crumpled paper. Akira Kurosako's "Remembrance" is equally somber and equally beautiful, albeit purely abstract.

Kiyoshi Awazu's silk-screen print is a very different, festive work. "Sea of Camelias" is a grid of 20 stylized flower forms in a variety of high-key colors that shift relationships from image to image. It is very beautiful and more than decorative.

Seiko Kawachi's woodcut is also beautiful, but the subject of a rooster hurtling through the air seems a waste of a very fine technique. Chizuko Yoshida's woodcut and photoengraving of butterflies just seems like a waste. It is the most egregious kind of decoration.

Finally, Mitsuaki Sora's strong, calligraphic forms in white negative space on a black field remind us of Japanese tradition.

This exhibition and one ending soon at the Mandeville Art Gallery at UC San Diego prompt the conclusion that the Japanese influence on Western art is more beneficial than the Western influence on Japanese art.

The exhibition continues through June 29.

Works of art by Grace Meredith are on view at Sweet Visions Yogurt Gallery (141 University Ave.). It's a joyous, upbeat show in a variety of media, including watercolors on paper, painting on fabric, painted furniture, extraordinary papier mache jewelry and, of course, mixed media.

Meredith's watercolors, often of women in domestic scenes, have a direct, primitive quality, but not unsophisticated. One of the artist's characteristics has always been to convey feelings directly. Some of her most effective works are made of painted, layered, burned newspapers, whose irregular edges and printed surfaces are the bases for pigmented compositions.

"Gull and Cliffs" is especially appealing, as is "Blue Flower Expansion," which exploits the decorative potential of stock quotations. "Horse without Rider," a small, traditional watercolor, has the naive quality of children's art, which almost always eludes adults. The figure is poignant without being sentimental.

Meredith's papier mache works of wearable art look as if they had waltzed out of Walt Disney's classic "Fantasia." They are make-believe shapes in a vibrant, full palette, three-dimensional paintings that can decorate a table and then be worn as bracelets.

Meredith's works remain on view through July 13.

The exhibition at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park could not be more different in spirit from Meredith's.

A cartoon flyer for the show includes a child in arms screaming, "Mommy, Mommy! I'm gonna have a bad dream!" in response to the works on view. I heard visitors express similar reactions. It's a tough show, reflecting the influences of the Late Medieval hallucinatory visions of Hieronymous Bosch in the works of John Workman Abel and the modern, drug-induced nightmares of Francis Bacon in the works of W. Haase Wojtyla.

Abel has titled his part of the exhibition "Art of the New Middle Ages" to express his feelings about the present world. It is spiritually bleak but lively with predators. Again and again Abel confronts us with ambiguity. The craftiness of the pickpocket in "Stop Over" appeals to our love of risk-taking while the innocence of the dozing victim, a grandmotherly woman sitting on a bus station bench, arouses our moral indignation.

Abel catches us, too, in the ambiguity of his grim vision and the exquisite craft of his small paintings and etchings.

Wojtyla, who frequently exhibits in the area, makes compositionally and coloristically complex paintings of distorted figures, as in "Brown Nude in the Shower." With a vision of life as unjoyous as Abel's, Wojtyla frequently paints fanged predatory dogs. In "Night Stalkers" he seem to suggest that man is even lower in the moral scale. Wojtyla's gifts are especially appropriate for such strenuous spiritual exercises as "Casting Out the Demon."

The exhibition continues through June 29.

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