SAN DIEGO — It already looks like midsummer at the Anuska Galerie (2400 Kettner Blvd.), where casually, scantily clad and even unclad men and women enjoy a variety of sybaritic, California beach activities.
The suntanned figures are realistic, life-size sculptures by Riverside-based artist Timothy Taylor, who molds his works directly on human bodies. His finished works, however, lack the photo-realist verisimilitude of Duane Hanson's and John DeAndrea's. Taylor's have rough contours and painterly surfaces. Still, they are sufficiently realistic to cause the wonder of recognition we experience when we see others of our species.
"Beach Scene," the largest of the works, fills the far end of the gallery with half a dozen figures enjoying the painted surf and shore that cover the wall and extend onto the floor in front of it. A young couple embrace in the foam; a muscular, blond man, not far from his teens, and a voluptuous young woman stroll the beach to the right.
But, ineluctably, your attention is drawn to a woman of a certain age, "a full-bodied beach broad," as someone said, emerging from the surf. She's a "California girl" 20 years later, but she still wears a ponytail, along with red-rimmed sunglasses and dangling plastic earrings, and she carries a bottle of beer.
In other works, a woman showers, a man and a woman gaze at the ocean from a deck on a cliff above Laguna Beach, a woman enjoys herself by skinny dipping, another flies/dives above our heads. Yet another woman in jeans and clinging T-shirt leans against a bar at Hussong's famous saloon in Ensenada.
Finally, an ominous piece entitled "Life and Death," reminds us of the transitory nature of the pleasures of the flesh and of the flesh itself.
Taylor's figures are skillfully made and amusingly engaging but somehow lacking in the poetry and mystery that we associate with the similar works of George Segal.
The exhibition continues through April 4.
There is much mystery and beauty, however, in the installation that multidisciplinary artist Barry Bell has created for the Sushi lobby gallery (852 8th Ave.).
"A Dark Horizon," Bell has written of his piece, "might represent the simultaneous hope and despair that modern realists feel when contemplating the future."
It is composed of a series of high-key color representational images floating in an amorphous, horizontal black field. Hands reach up from the ocean or over the horizon; a carrot hangs by a thread in front of an atomic mushroom cloud; a rose floats in the sky, a heron glides through it, water pours from an oval hole in it.
During the run of the exhibition, Bell will rearrange the images in different sequences.
He says in his posted artist's statement: "It is a puzzle with no correct solution."
Despite its ominous portents, the installation is strangely calming.
Bell is also exhibiting several "memographs," somberly evocative collages made with Polaroid snapshots.
The exhibition continues through April 11.
Margaret Honda has created a very different kind of installation at the Grossmont College Art Gallery (8800 Grossmont College Drive in El Cajon).
"It utilizes the concept of the underworld as a metaphor for the manufacture of fear and control," she has said. "Here, the viewer is disoriented and forced to grope through an entanglement of misleading information before artifice can be distinguished from fact and the delusion becomes clear."
"Hell," as the piece is called, is a maze of plastic sheets hanging in a room illuminated by one dim light. It creates an eerie and disorienting feeling, but it does not work because it fails as "artifice" or illusion. It lacks the professional finish of several Los Angeles artists, including Maria Nordman, for example, who have used light and darkness to magical effect.
This work is uncharacteristically weak for one of San Diego's strongest, most distinctive artists.
The exhibition continues through March 30.
The San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park has, unfortunately, two exhibitions that don't work.
"Celebrating Light," a show juried by one of the area's ablest artists, John Brodie, celebrates not light, but mediocrity.
A few works by Philip Hamilton, Jim Bess, Mark Hugunen, William Glen Crooks and Wade Cline are exceptions, however.
Pauline Doblado's old-fashioned American Indian scenes are painted excessively in purples and blues as are her cloying versions of a contemporary Madonna and Child.
The exhibitions continue through April 5.