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SIGHTS ABOUT TOWN : Art for Dinner : Maggie Yee's works at the Gallery Restaurant are conversation pieces, not just the usual pretty wallpaper.

May 02, 1991|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What you normally expect from art in restaurants is a harmless complement to the decor, nothing to upset the diner. What you get, refreshingly, with the art of Maggie Yee--now up at the Gallery Restaurant in Ventura's Doubletree Hotel--is reality suspended and amended. Instead of pretty, inoffensive wallpaper to go with the meal, you get nutty conversation pieces and a deliciously off-center aesthetic.

In this show sponsored by the Ventura Art Assn., Yee fashions her acrylic and mixed-media works after photographs, then lets her imagination run a bit wild. Leaning toward the surreal and the fantastic, Yee uses various means to distort images, create giddy juxtapositions, and generally maintain a lightheaded and light-handed approach.

In an artist's statement, Yee claims to seek the release of "dream souls." Before you scream "California-ese," though, notice the satirical humor threading through the show. The space cadet in "Circumplanetary Dropout" could be any post-'60s existential drifter with a blissful grin and wreathed with psychedelic frills.

Figures have been splashed with decorative tinsel and swirls, Jackson Pollock-esque drips and multiple icons such as trails of trinkets. Little sea creatures, non-sacred cows and wine carafes float around a tilted image of a Charthouse Restaurant in "Pub Crawl at the Wanton Junction." Tiny sweaters offer an ironic framing device in "Sweater Maker," the centerpiece of which is a sheep's face peering out benignly in ultra-close-up view.

"Men at Work" is the most peculiar of a peculiar lot. What appear to be five Indonesian dance hall gals sitting on parquet steps for a portrait, surrounded by decorative confetti, may be a drag ball. They're bathing in an aura of twisted festiveness, as are we, the viewers.

Though "Spirit of Fire Water" is not one of the stronger visual pieces on display, the title and the notion may reveal the essence of Yee's art. There is something slightly tipsy about her take on art. If it all begins to seem normal, you may have ordered one too many.

WATERCOLOR DREAMS:

For more sober, logical artistic fare, the Buenaventura Gallery of the Ventura Art Assn. is presently awash in watercolors. The three Ojai-based watercolorists involved in the exhibit "April in Ojai" deal with the dreamy landscape tradition, but occupy their own respective private corners of the watercolorful world.

Gayel Childress gleefully depicts nudes with distended and distorted proportions, as if we're seeing reflections of undraped figures in the rippling surface of a pond. These women, in varying states of leisure and surrounded by floral touches or flitting butterflies, convey a certain loony, freewheeling charm. "The Gardener" is another story: He's nude and sitting down on the job and eyeing some apples--forbidden fruit--covetously.

Meanwhile, Elaine Rogers and Barbara Greene stick to the landscape at hand. Greene goes for the long view of nature with her impressions of fields, meadows and brooks, in which seeping washes of color are intersected by tight, precise lines. Therein lies the hard and the soft of it.

By contrast, Rogers likes to zoom in on her floral subjects. Her pieces are point-blank illustrations of nature in full bloom or views of a few lonely fruit in still-life arrangements. Of particular note is "Matilija '91," its delicate white blossoms highlighted against a dark backdrop.

These three views of watercolor art give some credence to a medium that isn't always granted its due in the art world.

LADIES IN WHITE:

Clay Platner, whose paintings are being showcased at the Heritage Gallery in Camarillo, relishes the look of loose brushwork and an idyllic vision of seaside life. This selection of Platner's neo-impressionistic paintings reveals the artist's fondness for women in sheer, white dresses, golfers on curvaceous greens overlooking the ocean blue and the bathing effect of cool Californian light.

His most inviting paintings dwell on that light and bypass the distraction of figures. It's helpful to understand that Platner studied architecture and was a landscape designer for years. "Beach Party" finds a long stretch of unpopulated beach in the foreground and tiny specks of humanity at a distance. Where's the party? Who needs a party in a place like this?

"California Coast" is simple and effective, an unspoiled coastal view from another era--or some part of California with no easy public access. The largest and most dramatic work is "California Poppies," its blossoms little bursts against a background of moody green stalks. Platner paints like a Californian in search of the California we've dreamed about.

* WHERE AND WHEN

* Maggie Yee, "Dream Souls," acrylics and mixed-media works through May 20, at the Gallery Restaurant in the Doubletree Hotel, 700 E. Santa Clara St.

* Elaine Rogers, Gayel Childress and Barbara Greene, watercolors at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura, through Sunday.

* Clayton Platner, paintings at the Heritage Fine Art Gallery, 596-C Mobil Ave., Camarillo, through May 15.

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