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AT THE GALLERIES / Robert McDonald

October 03, 1986|ROBERT MCDONALD

SAN DIEGO — The Wita Gardiner Gallery, recently relocated from La Mesa to downtown San Diego (535 4th Ave.), is officially inaugurating its new space with an exhibition of enamels.

Titled "Enamels Now," it includes vessels, boxes and wall reliefs as well as dozens of pieces of jewelry made by distinguished metalsmiths from throughout the United States. This area is the most advanced in erasing the traditional distinctions between "arts" and "crafts" and is sensitive to the aesthetic integrity of artists who work in mediums such as clay, fiber and precious metals.

Locally, Gardiner is a leader in this effort with her stated intent "to cross all media lines, to show paintings, sculptures and installations, as well as jewelry."

Technically, enamel is a glassy, colored, opaque substance fused to surfaces of metals (such as copper) as an ornamental coating. In cloisonne, probably the most familiar type of enamel work, the surface decoration is set in hollows formed by thin strips of wire.

As a medium, enameling is as capable as any other in evoking a sense of the mystery of art.

Pamela Harlow, for example, has said: "I am concerned with the unknowable, the ineffable, the ephemeral. My work maps regions of yearning, of giving, of earthly and spiritual need." She conveys these concerns in three handsome wall pieces.

Or consider the comment of Belle Kuhn: "I find pleasure in the process--the transformation of lackluster powders into glowing surfaces in the kiln--a process always at risk, never entirely within one's control." She and husband Roger Kuhn are represented by jewelry--titled "Mothwing Series" and "Stripes Series"--that is magical in its exquisitely luminous beauty.

Martha Banyas makes sculptures using mask forms. Jamie Bennet, a master of the medium, is represented by figurative wall reliefs and brooches that are perfect complements of form and color. Also included in the exhibition are rough but elegant vessels by June Schwarcz, jewelry by Rebekah Laskin and wall and pedestal sculptures by Christina Gibson-Sears.

The exhibition continues through Nov. 1.

International Gallery (643 G St.) is offering an exhibition titled "Deception and Revelation: The Art of the Mask" with contemporary and traditional examples of the art form.

The traditional masks come from many areas, including Ivory Coast, Nigeria, India, Nepal, Guatemala, New Guinea, Zaire, Mali, Mexico, Indonesia and China. They are as informative about the material concerns and spiritual needs of people as they are artistically satisfying.

Of the 22 contemporary artists represented by works in the exhibition, seven are based in San Diego--Martha Chatelain, Deirdre Coppedge, Ellen Fagar, Minako Lee, Julie Thompson, Mario Uribe and David Zapf.

Paul Brandwein of New York expresses his wild imagination in ceramic--in rabbit, dragon and frog masks, for example, but most of all in "Mask No. 7 From Inside Out," in which a small person is trying to climb out the mouth of the mask.

Debra Kelmar is represented by creepy faces (the "Purim Series") formed from hand-made felt.

First prize for brilliance goes to Maureen Culligan of Oregon whose "The Waiting to Be Married Mask," "The Black and White Wedding Mask" and "The Catholic Wedding Mask" are sly, minor masterworks of social commentary. They have the punch of Judy Chicago, but with a sense of humor.

The masks would be great gifts.

Also on exhibition are ceramic works by Thomas Fontaine --glazed plates and exquisite matte-finished vessels with miniature animal fetishes. The exhibitions continue through Nov.

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