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Art Review : '87 'images' A Cut Above Usual

August 28, 1987|CATHY CURTIS

Juried art exhibits are always crapshoots. Who's to say whether hundreds of submissions by the eager and untried (or the jaundiced and unsung) will result in anything worth looking at? But a well-respected and firmly opinionated juror is likely to improve the odds.

For "Images '87," the annual juried show sponsored by the Bowers Museum and the Torana Art League, blue-chip juror Henry Hopkins brought in a selection of work a cut above the usual fare.

A veteran of prominent California institutions whose career has embraced the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Hopkins is director of the Los Angeles-based Frederick R. Weisman Collection. Weeding through more than 700 entries from artists throughout Southern California to come up with a gallery-manageable 83, Hopkins favored technically strong but sometimes disconcertingly bland realist paintings and drawings.

With a few exceptions, the sculpture treads wearily over old territory (Hopkins says in his statement that entries in this medium were "somewhat less creative"). And the few abstractions are the sort of inept product more commonly associated with the low end of the juried art spectrum. ("It was difficult," writes the ever-diplomatic Hopkins, "to find many examples of fine abstract painting.")

But, unlike last year's "Images" show, promising works in virtually all media reward the quality-hungry viewer. Although many of the artists pursue narrowly, even timidly, focused styles and subject matter, some have achieved an ease and authoritativeness in their chosen areas.

Costa Mesa painter Jeffrey Horn, for example, knows exactly how to conjure up the sprawling emptiness of suburban intersections or--as in the no doubt ironically titled drawing "Study for Landmarks"--a lonely freeway underpass. With a pencil that easily replicates the textures of objects, Santa Ana artist Judy Bell sets up an offbeat comparison between an askew patch of rugged landscape and the tilt of a polished-wood and roughened-metal tool ("Companion").

Other artists venture into somewhat more challenging waters.

The real "winners" of "Images '87" range from the rough-and-ready expressionism of self-taught artist Jeff Reed's drawing of two derelicts scrounging through the trash ("Ninth Race") to the ambitious sweep and brooding complexity of Kharlene Boxenbaum's "The Long Wait." In this 11-foot-long painting, shadowy figures read, juggle packages, stare into space or even make love under the looming presence of huge, impersonal works of art.

Painting on wood, which he leaves bare at strategic, road-like intervals, Fielden W. Harper sets up a series of geometrically stylized buildings with blank, gaping facades ("Urbanscape I").

Spiky patterns of interior design in Liz Thomson's linocut, "How Could They Know Who He Was . . . " (one of very few prints in the show) reinforce the tension apparent in a scene of a man sprawled awkwardly against a bed on which a male companion sleeps. The title comes from lines by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

In sculpture, the stronger work is somewhat more predictable. Peter Riegert's curiously benign mechanical interpretation of the Crucifixion ("C-8") has a brass thermometer for a head and a torso made of what appears to be the innards of a switch plate. Meredith Strauss' V-patterned wall piece, "Heartbeat" unexpectedly mingles the utilitarian associations and irregular texture of metal screening with the slick dazzle of white vinyl.

Slamming an iron into a battered car door ("Restoration Movement"), Placentia artist Craig Leese doesn't quite make a point, yet the image has a certain bizarre gutsiness rare in Orange County art. Although a little rough in execution, Nancy Liebenson-Rex's wall piece, "Ongaku," offers a light 'n' breezy pattern of welded steel curves wrapped with solid and translucent fabrics.

Despite Hopkins' encouraging remark about the level of photography entrants, Robert Lang's untitled silver gelatin print of a man whose flapping arms register as white zigzag bursts of light is just about the only work in this medium with a distinctive personality to match its technical facility. On a more traditional plane, skillful cropping lends William Loveless' headless untitled nude a shyly virginal purity.

It's disappointing, although hardly surprising, that the show includes some real clunkers. Whether the bad news is pure kitsch (like Esther Reeves' painting of a crinkle-eyed explorer-visionary whose white hair streams out against the sky) or misinterpreted postmodernism (like Bonnie Mott's gooey, paint-encrusted droop of unstretched canvas), it's hard to avoid when selections are made by looking only at slides.

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