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SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : Dabbling in Diversity : The work of Amani Fliers offers an abstract taste of multiple identities.

April 15, 1993|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Amani Fliers, a Thousand Oaks-based artist who teaches at Moorpark, dabbles with multiple identities in her current show at the Ventura County Government Center. She's all over the map of her own devising.

She's an abstractionist. She's a multimedia artist, incorporating computer-generated imagery and photography. She's a neo-primitive, appropriating the naivete and symbolism of non-Western folk art: she also has a hand in the branch of contemporary art that makes native folk art its business.

She's all of these things and more, and yet somehow, the seeming lack of focus serves to add to the aesthetic whole rather than diluting it.

In her acrylic abstract paintings, Fliers shows a strong sense of gesture, harnessing a purely visual energy without conceptual subplots. Swirling colors cohere into suggestions of space, with reference points open to interpretation.

More festive than Angst -laden, these paintings seem cause for celebration rather than brooding, attesting to the shifting role of abstract painting.

Other, more muted, paintings elicit a moodier character. Blue and brown hazes fester uneasily beneath line drawings in works such as "A Skin Full of Tears."

"Memories," with its strange blend of personal and religious references achieved through computer-generation, manages to evoke the gentle earthy blur of memories in a general sense.

Meanwhile, on yet another wall, Fliers' paintings assume a more ethnic folk quality, with pictograph-like icons and a freely expressive drawing hand. With the wonderfully loony primitivism of "OIGA!," the spirit of Jean Dubuffet and nose-out-of-joint Cubism come out to play in the Third World.

A healthy appetite for diversity marks Fliers' show, without a sense of diminished artistic returns. Somehow, it's all of a piece.

In the front lobby of the Government Center, Ojai sculptor Gretchen Greenberg shows her unpretentious wares. Gaunt yet slightly goofy, her carved wood works have a folk art levity buoyed by an elegance of form.

Nature Revisited

"Transformations," featuring Los Angeles artists Racheal Winn Yon and Stephani Denker, is the main fare this month at the Ojai Center for the Arts. Altered views of nature are the order of business.

Yon riffs off a recurring set of symbols and images lifted out of nature, set into various kinds of relief (sometimes literally, with fish bones rising off of paintings). She's has no fear of a pun, as in the "Oh, Fish Heart!" series.

Yon's "Homeland" series of monotypes is especially provocative, with its dark, mythic convergence of fruit, loamy earth and ceremonial masks.

In her artist statement, Denker explains that she's a former (reformed?) abstract Expressionist painter. Now, she deals with flora, but in a stark, stylized way, emphasizing the spindly verticality of trees and their potential for allegory.

Bits of gold and silver leaf charge the revised landscapes, distanced from any residual purist's approach by their gilded sheen.

These artists seem to be in mid-evolution, still manipulating and refining their respective thematic turfs. Both, though, are playing with some potentially enriching putty.

Also on display at the center this month are pottery works by Otto and Vivika Heino, the gifted first couple of Ojai ceramists, and Claire Rantourl's amiably naive travelogue paintings--from Tuscany to Lake Casitas.

Multidimensional Chit Chat

While often crossing over the line into kitsch and smarminess, the 2- and 3-D works of Phyllis J. Doyon and Gene Schklair spike the air of the Thousand Oaks Community Gallery with enough clever twists and occasional creative cloudbursts to warrant a look, when you're in the neighborhood.

They don't inherently belong together, these two. But the audacity of their motley merger is what keeps this show more interesting than the sum of its parts.

Doyon is a gentle soul, content to conjure lilting, mostly floral, imagery with an able hand. She putters around, palette at the ready, in the figurative garden, reveling in the innocent joys of color and photosynthesis.

Along comes the more garrulous, pun-happy Schklair, foisting her 3-D gallery of life-size figures and scenes, some of which force themselves upon Doyon's pieces. This is not high concept stuff: in one piece, a dowdy cleaning woman dusts off a mock-abstract painting, futile in her efforts to clean up the "mess."

In "Temptation," a plaster-and-wood boy tries to defy the laws of physics by swiping an apple from a still-life painting. Surreal kleptomania strikes again in "I'll Be Back," in which a woman, halfway through a wall, lugs a Doyon painting into the fourth dimension. Calling Rod Serling. . . .

From the evidence here, Schklair seems nothing if not prolific. Her works fill not only gallery space, but include the previously-viewed "World Weary" in the gallery's bathroom. Here, a life-size George Segal-like figure drowns his sorrows via bubbly in a bathtub.

In this exhibition, what might have had more of an intellectual, interactive sting were the irony more refined, skates along pleasantly. Surface appeal has to suffice.

* WHERE AND WHEN

* Amani Fliers and Gretchen Greenberg at the Ventura County Government Center, 800 S. Victoria Ave., through April 22. For more information, call 654-3964.

* "Transformation," mixed media works on paper by Racheal Winn Yon and Stephani Stergis Denker, at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St. through April. For more information, call 646-0117.

* "2D-3D," works by Phyllis J. Doyon and Gene Schklair, through April 30 at the Thousand Oaks Community Gallery, 2331 Borchard Road, Newbury Park. For more information, call 498-4390.

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