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SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : Nightclub Art : Brightly colored paintings full of dancers and lounge-abouts are hanging out at the raucous Club Soda.


Fine art is most often encountered in clean, quiet settings. Galleries and museums have a sanctuary atmosphere, like refuges from the frantic buzz of the everyday world.

But art, after all, is where you find it. For the present, you'll find it at Club Soda in downtown Ventura.

With their bold paintings--on tall panels and on the walls themselves--and a series of smaller woodcuts, artists Kostas Lekakis and Cindy Bolin have dramatically altered the dance club's decor for anyone who cares to notice.

What's this? Art in a nightclub--and one that caters to base dance instincts instead of an arty veneer? Why not? In the '20s, expressionists depicted the decadence of Germany between the wars. Those artists' scenes of debauchery, though, involved as much biting social satire as revelry after dark.

But this isn't a Weimar Republic cabaret, old chum. This is Ventura. This is a party. This is a disco. This is strictly foolin' around.

You walk up the dizzying, steep stairway of Club Soda, with diagonal black and white tile disorienting the unsuspecting visitor. If you are there on a Wednesday night--"Girls' Night Out"--the fare is the thump-and-grind tease of male strippers who do their thing to loud dance music rattling the walls.

On those walls now rest several large, brightly colored paintings full of lounge-abouts and dancers writhing and twisting. One panel depicts an otherworldly rock band in action. Anyone looking for traditional high art here is looking in the wrong place. The Greek-born Lekakis and Bolin, who lived in Santa Barbara for two years and in Ventura for one year, deal in campy neo-primitive figures, which are marked by exaggerated features, harsh angles and seductive curves, in states of apparent late-night ecstasy.

One eye-catching painting, called "The Visitor," finds a scantily clad woman conversing with an angular man. Is it love or just a business transaction in the offing? A text by Lekakis on the painting reads: "Service of love my moment has come like blue smoke in the bar mood of blue love." Blue is the operative word.

Toward the back bar, which houses an aquarium, one wall has been decorated with fanciful depictions of sea life--as much figments of the creative imagination as genuine aquatic illustration. Over the main bar is a caricature of owner Michael Avrea, equipped with a halo (an art patron saint?).

Art belongs in public places. Avrea, who with his brother Jim opened Club Soda in 1984 on the former site of the Moose Lodge, had been in the market for a new look and artists with the right stuff.

"I was thinking about using original art in here and had talked to some artists in Ventura," he said in the club recently as female customers ogled the disrobing talent across the room. "Then, out of the blue, (Bolin and Lekakis) called me. I had a gut feeling that it was right." Avrea commissioned the pair to create these images-- their last local artistic act before heading to Europe for an undetermined time.

How long will this art be a part of the Club Soda scene? "Probably for a couple of years," Avrea said, shrugging. "There are no pat formulas here." He can say that again.

Speaking of art beyond gallery walls, the "Visions XVI" show is hidden deep in Oxnard's financial plaza. Tucked away on the second floor of the huge Ventura County Bank building, the exhibition features the work of artists on the faculty of Ventura College. Photography, watercolor and collage are the principal mediums, and several pieces vie for your attention.

Aiming at the timely subject of censorship hysteria, Bunny Jennings goes for the jugular with a rubber knife. Done with tongue firmly in cheek, Jennings' "Censored Treasures (Blame Jesse Helms)" series shows color Xeroxes of classic artworks with the "naughty parts" covered up. Michelangelo's David is fitted with a swimsuit and Adam from the Sistine Chapel atones for original sin by donning bikini briefs.

Painter Roseanne Holmes Oberboe's "Clearing After the Rains at Giverny" is an impressionistic homage to Claude Monet, while Marla Burg paints raw, vivid domestic scenes divided into panels.

A chilling juxtaposition gives Richard Peterson's "It Is Finished" its potency. In the foreground, we see a deceased AIDS patient being unceremoniously removed from his final resting place by hospital orderlies. On the hospital wall hangs an image of Christ's body (one of the Catholic stations of the cross) in a similar pose, being removed from the cross. A holy martyr's finale contrasts with an impersonal one.

Far more abstract interests guide Gerd Kock's paintings, which boast cascades of color and vague references to landscape painting. In "Portal to Reality--An Etruscan Dream," Kock delicately balances the real and the unreal to tap into the mysterious legacy of the Italian Etruscan subculture.

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