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SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : Therapeutic Art : An exhibit gives Camarillo State Hospital patients a way to express themselves and communicate with the public.


One of the most reliable spaces in the county to view art is hidden in the gilded tower looming over the Oxnard skyline in the financial plaza. There, on the second floor of the Ventura County National Bank building, artworks lead the curious from the elevator down a hallway and into a tidy gallery niche.

Down the hall, mortgages are being negotiated. Art is where you find it. Currently, you find such eye-massaging art as Bert Collins' plein-air odes to the area around Ojai and Nancy Whitman's Matisse-like larks.

As of last month, the bank launched its Gallery II, as coordinator Pat Richards calls it, at the Camarillo branch. It's a somewhat disarming place to contemplate art, surrounded by the officious hum of banking.

Cutting through any such disorientation, the first official art show, "Personal Discoveries," calls attention to itself. This art, by residents of the Camarillo State Hospital and Developmental Center, tells a sad but ultimately inspiring story.

The Camarillo State Hospital's art therapy program, guided by Jack Cheyney, has been responsible for eliciting some of the more moving art in the area. The present bank show, which has been extended through this month by popular demand, serves as a prelude to the extensive annual exhibition at the hospital in June.

Especially poignant is the fact that these residents have found in art a personal expression, a voice and also a mode of direct communication with the public. Where otherwise they might be marginalized, cut off from the mainstream, art becomes a vehicle of interaction.

The centerpiece of the show, "Rainy Day Mickey" by Alan (for privacy's sake, only first names are used), is by now a regionally famous image. It appeared in last summer's group show at the hospital and at the Ventura County Fair.

Here we see Mickey Mouse, great American symbol of innocence, with his gleeful image distorted, washed out as if by a rain shower. Cam's "Web of Feelings," true to the title, is a tangled abstract mass of drip 'n' splatter color.

Noah, whose "Playgirl" was a memorable image in last summer's hospital exhibition, now shows a self-portrait, a floating face that recalls African art and Edvard Munch's "The Scream." Todd's "Two Friends" finds two spectral figures--"friends"--dwarfed by a rich background of ocher and mysterious blue stripes swiping overhead.

There is something quietly compelling about the imagery here, with its unfettered, non-intellectualized and non-romanticized modes of expression. Angles are skewed, proportions uneven and executions unrestrained. This art can be surprising, wonderfully off-kilter and otherwise revealing of new ideas.

As always, truly fine art comes from unexpected places.

Eating with your eyes full: Speaking of art in non-art-oriented public places, the latest group show of artists lining the wall of Zack's restaurant in Santa Barbara is up. It includes Ojai artists Ruth Farnham and Linda Taylor.

Painter Farnham's muted abstractions refer obliquely to landscapes and animalia but stay mostly in the realm of the non-representational. Taylor's collages, with their shamelessly vibrant color schemes, are in 3-D relief.

From the Santa Barbara contingent, Aud Powelson's etchings feature semi-primitivistic faces and accidental Cubism, while Angela Beguhl's pleasant ceramic and fabric mixed-media works play off the hard/soft paradox of her materials.

Laura Porakova continues to be the organizing force behind the Zack's program, and she has kept an eye on art from both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. She's doing her best to encourage Santa Barbara-Ventura border crossings. And bully for her.

On-the-job images: Every once in a while, the Conejo Valley Art Museum comes up with a show that leaves avid art-goers scratching their heads wondering: "What is art? What is an art museum? When does art need to be called craft?"

Now celebrating nearly a year in its location in the Janss Mall, the museum has presented a number of provocative and different shows. There has also been the occasional drab curio that doesn't seem to belong in an art museum.

"Behind the Scenes: Photography in the Film and Advertising Industries" belongs to the latter category. Ben Glass' production stills from "Dances With Wolves" and Peter McCrea's images on the sets of TV commercials and on Broadway can charitably be viewed under the heading of vocational arts.

Which is not to say that a high level of professionalism and polish isn't inherent in this work. But Glass' glistening shots of Kevin Costner, American Indians in costume, twilit tepees and buffalo herds really amount to an inside job.

Even when a cameraman enters the picture and breaks character, he is viewed as a hero on the plains. You can almost hear John Barry's pompous orchestral musical score for the film. Oh, wait--that is his score, coming from the TV speaker where they're running the video of the film.

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