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SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : Slice of Home : Hiroko Yoshimoto's Buenaventura Gallery show is both inviting and a little voyeuristic.

June 27, 1991|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

We take our homes for granted. We walk through them daily, too busy or weary to take much notice. We sail right by myriad happenstance compositions or accidental still lifes. Home, after all, is where you hang your hat and make your oatmeal, and not where you look for artistic inspiration.

Hiroko Yoshimoto noticed, and noticed well. The results in her current Buenaventura Gallery show, "Slice of Life," are inviting and a little voyeuristic. We see the home from multiple perspectives, both inside and outside. Fruit, underbrush, picture windows, bugs, dog ears, artist's bric-a-brac--these are laid out for our viewing pleasure. The show amounts to a portrait of the artist as a resident.

It all began with a departure from the home. Yoshimoto of Ventura has been primarily an abstract artist whose work often has involved boldly colored, shaped canvases. Her set and costume designs were featured in last year's production of "The Magic Flute" in Ventura and will be featured in an ambitious production at the Ventura College Theatre of Menotti's "Unicorn" in November.

When it came time for her to leave her hillside home in Ventura, she had a desire to document the place before departing. Call it a rite of passage. In her artist's statement at the gallery show, Yoshimoto explains that "every corner now seems to have the elements of a potential painting . . . am I in the process of discovering 'realism' in painting as a means of self-examination?"

Small oil-on-paper images have dates for titles, emphasizing the concept of a visual diary. While some of the specific pieces are more striking than others, the show has an overall impact as a series, as an artist's specifically defined sketchbook. She falls into line with famous homebodies such as Pierre Bonnard, the Impressionist who often puttered around the house--looking in on his bathing wife or noticing the Persian rugs in the living room--and found spurs to the imagination in everyday scenes.

Sometimes Yoshimoto's dates carry special meaning. In March, she peered through rain-smeared windows and painted the neighboring terrain. March, of course, has a keen significance in this painfully arid region, in that it was the last month of rain. Her best outdoor paintings, depicting the garden, are elliptically cropped and mysterious.

On May 6, she painted, with an entomologist's fascination, an ultra close-up of a dead housefly on a real estate ad. Another dead fly appears in a bowl in an otherwise staid still-life composition with three lemons. (Dead insects relate back to the fool-the-eye, trompe l'oeil tradition, in which flies were sometimes included in paintings to suggest realism.)

Another still life features ripe strawberries on a table with her dog's pointy ears peering over the table-top. Often, it's what Yoshimoto excludes from view that energizes her imagery.

Tools of the art trade naturally play a role. On May 8 she noticed a shelf with paintbrushes, propped up in both a ceramic bowl and an empty Quaker Oats box, with the old Quaker's munificent grin the center of attention. We see the artist's studio, with works in progress--the ones in this show--hanging on an elongated easel next to her shoes, and a few examples of her abstract pre-house paintings.

And on April Fool's Day she noticed the dazzling view of the distant blue Pacific from her living room. Sunlight streams into the room in diagonal swipes and rakes across the easy chair. Sometimes those simple on-the-fly compositions are reason enough to stay at home, literally and figuratively. It all relates to the art of noticing.

Painter Emil Kosa Jr. has a respectable foothold in the annals of American art, as a realist playing his part in the California version of American regionalism. But many more people--those who have seen "The Grapes of Wrath," "Deadline, U.S.A." (a personal favorite of mine), "The King and I," "Cleopatra," and many other films--have seen his handiwork without knowing it.

Born in Paris, Kosa was a world traveler as a young artist and wound up working in Hollywood. He was a matte artist and later became an art director for 20th Century Fox, where he worked for about three decades until his death in 1968.

In the upstairs gallery at Oxnard's Carnegie Art Museum are several of Kosa's personal statements in paint. He painted a variety of subjects--portraits and urban scenes--but much of this show's focus is on California landscapes.

By working with backlighting and the long light of late afternoon sun, Kosa found flattering ways to depict the kind of rolling brown hills--speckled with bursts of green--that we see in Southern California topography in places such as the Santa Ynez Valley. In these paintings, Kosa wisely focused on the form, the sensuous contours of shaded foothills, rather than on the limited color palette in this semiarid landscape.

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