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October 23, 1987|Leah Ollman

CHULA VISTA — A meaty and very moving show of work by two local artists is on view at the Southwestern College Art Gallery (900 Otay Lakes Road).

Richard Morse Allen's series of black-and-white paintings impart a tremendous pulsating energy, vitality and fighting spirit. Their central totemic figures squirm with flat black lines, stars, crosses, letters, hearts, daggers and bulbous, implicitly sexual imagery, all tightly compressed and suspended in a field of white.

The crisp graphic clarity of the images conveys a sense of preciousness that seems to challenge Allen's tough tone. He calls the series, which he began in New York in 1977-78 and still continues, "F--- the World." The crude, aggressive title matches the rawness of the imagery, which derives its sexual and religious references and lettered inscriptions from the arenas of tattooing and graffiti.

Chains, crosses and daggers assault the surface of "F.T.W. / Mural" (1977), intermingling with insignias of hate--swastikas, Ku Klux Klan inscriptions, the words Satan, hell, die and so on. Allen's motivation may be anger, but it is not defeat. In his gallery statement, he describes his stance as rebellious, tough and resistant, that of a fighter for rights and freedom. Surely the will and energy that produced these remarkable paintings is capable of achieving these and more.

Robert Sanchez's recent work offers respite from Allen's visual assault, but it, too, presents an inescapable tension. Sanchez paints cell-like interiors, dank spaces illuminated by low-hanging bulbs or high, remote windows. The scenes within are tilted forward as if spilling out of their confines, intensifying the air of unease and imbalance.

"Secret Research" encapsulates the nightmarish aspects of this tension. Within an interior awash with a deep red glow, a deformed creature lays like a specimen on a table; grenades rest on the floor below and mysterious laboratory equipment sits to one side. In "Bone at 5 a.m." Sanchez's vision turns tranquil, setting a single bone on a table in the blue light of dawn. Bones recur in Sanchez's work with regularity, as sources of light, strength and connection to fundamental life forces. The symbolism of the bone, as well as the pills, crosses and beds that Sanchez also uses as motifs, is powerful and affecting, evoking themes of pain, healing, desperation and release.

The show continues through Oct. 30.

Sequels rarely improve upon debuts, but "Deception and Revelation: The Art of the Mask II" at the International Gallery (643 G St.) proves an exception. The current show (through Nov. 6) expands upon last fall's with a greater richness, depth and variety.

Through an extensive, exquisite array of tribal and contemporary masks, the show demonstrates that the mask form remains quite vital. Used for ages in drama, ritual, dance and play, the mask form approaches the stature of an international language, a universal art form. The masks here come from as far as the Ivory Coast, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Mali, Zaire, Japan and other locales, and are made of such diverse materials as wood, metal, paper, leather, ceramics, silk and feathers.

They range from the reductive forms and smooth wood surfaces of Dan masks from the Ivory Coast to the delicately carved and painted "Temple Mask" from Indonesia. Some, the tribal masks especially, are marvelously moving vehicles of spiritual energy. Those made by contemporary artists tend to be slicker, more self-consciously designed and often humorous, but many share the power of their tribal counterparts by integrating traditional forms with contemporary elements and materials. Maurice Grossman's raku masks, among others, achieve this blend successfully, their flattened clay surfaces segmented by incised lines and patterns that recall tribal scarification marks.

Leah Younker's series of paintings, "Men, Women and Children," at Sushi (852 8th Ave.) juxtaposes scenes of domestic comfort with suggestions of military threat. Younker, an instructor at Palomar College, hangs her paintings in pairs to evoke direct contrasts, and in groups of four or five to develop more complex thematic relationships.

In a two-panel work, Younker shows a toddler on its knees, arms outstretched, over an image of a boy with arms in a similar position, but on the ground, presumably downed by force. Such contrasts between domestic security and political vulnerability in Younker's work are reinforced by the contrast between a colorful, uplifting palette and a more muted, musty tonal range.

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