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AT THE GALLERIES / Leah Ollman

October 30, 1987|LEAH OLLMAN

An exhibit at the Wita Gardiner Gallery (535 Fourth Ave.) complements the highly refined and elegant jewelry of Arline Fisch with the complex, dynamic paintings and sculpture of Deborah Horrell (through Nov. 7).

Fisch's "Woven Gold" series is composed of strong yet supple forms made of metals woven into fabric-like sheets, then folded or curled to become pendants, brooches, bracelets and other wearable objects. The patterned squares in their tightly woven surfaces catch light at various angles and intensities, causing them to shimmer like mosaics. Fisch, who teaches at San Diego State University, has given her new work a solid, sculptural quality without forfeiting the intimate, tactile appeal of her more loosely knitted work.

Horrell, based in Columbus, Ohio, blends the spiritual and the scientific in her imagery. Delicate porcelain bones and linear renderings of birds' wings signal an interest in both physical and spiritual ascent, echoed by her title for this work, "From Real to Ethereal." The work broaches personal and religious themes through combinations of wood, porcelain, paint, glass and canvas.

In "Madonna," Horrell reduces the figures of mother and child to two simple ovoid heads and shoulders, wrapped in a cocoon of colored lines. From one edge of the frame juts a long thorn, speckled with gold leaf and conjuring associations with both Christ's crown of thorns and the traditional use of gold in religious icons. Horrell was ambitious to have adopted a theme so well prescribed by tradition, but her interpretation is fresh, passionate and graceful.

The cocoon-like figures recur in her "Vortex" paintings, one of which is accompanied by a wood framework of the same torso form. The formal delicacy of Horrell's imagery cloaks a serious, probing energy. In most of her individual works, this power is succinct and poetic, but in her large installation here, the combination of elements feels overloaded with symbols to the point of pretentiousness.

San Diego's Brighton Press has been printing Barney Reid's etchings for the past 10 years. A thorough survey of the results of this collaboration is on view through Nov. 14 at the Brighton Press Gallery (320 E St.) under the title "Man & Places & Things Happening." Reid uses the etching medium in traditional fashion, making small-scale representational images from a plethora of delicate hatch marks. Though much of his oeuvre consists of staid, conventional renderings of desert landscapes and genre scenes, Reid also makes surprising switchbacks from this banal sentimentality to a vision of the fantastic and grotesque.

These more adventurous works recall the images of Goya or Bosch in their nightmarish realism. In "Second Ritual" (1984), raven-headed men dance tauntingly around a reclining figure. In "Big Tree" (1986), thick limbs support an entanglement of rope and flesh. The rope twists elaborately around the branches, finally to end around the neck of its limply hanging victim. Meanwhile, the tree's other occupants revel in the escapade, with one couple even using the branches as the setting for a sexual tryst. The understated horror of these works gives them a fascination entirely absent from Reid's more conservative imagery. They are small-scale mysteries that show what the others would deny--that Reid is capable of unusual, imaginative vision.

In this age of artistic pluralism, definitions of artistic media and the traditional barriers between media have all but crumbled. The title of the show "Media Perimeters," then, says very little about its five artists other than that they deviate in some way from the basic techniques of painting, photography and sculpture. The show, at Mesa College Art Gallery (7250 Mesa College Drive), through Nov. 12, is essentially a mixed-media show, with each artist showing work of mixed technical origin as well as mixed quality.

Rosemary Boost shows several collaged drawings of no particular force alongside several assemblages that possess tremendous poetic appeal. "Lovers Walk," a glass-faced box of shoddy wood, brightly painted with a cross on top, is one of three small, shrine-like objects that speak of personal and religious faith. Inside the box, five sheep cutouts align themselves dutifully in a row. On the back wall behind them hang a wishbone, a color photo of clouds and a heart-shaped stone wrapped with red thread. These small mementos of hope and love, of modest value and simple assemblage, lend the artist's work a sense of honesty and intimacy common to folk art.

Michael Portera's sculptural wall forms share the same vibrant, biting energy as the poem that serves as his artist's statement. His largest work, "The pidgeons fly'n for the palms," extends to three dimensions the compartmentalized organic and automatic shapes seen in the early paintings of Adolph Gottlieb. David Kinney's small, hand-painted photographs transform such mundane items as a bar of soap or a tape dispenser into objects of meditative focus. By drawing directly on the image, Kinney trades clarity and context for more spontaneous personal expression--a bargain that yields some engaging results.

Ruth Wallen presents a dreadful photo-text installation but compensates for it with a poignant, diaristic handmade book. Tom Driscoll's polyurethane foam sculptures wear crusty painted skins that evoke a small dialogue of densities and textures. Except for one piece where Driscoll embeds children's military toys into cast plaster, the works offer no hint of meaning.

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