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Exhibit Takes Up the Cross : Use of the symbol is examined at Brand Library Art Galleries in work by 15 artists in diverse media.

April 16, 1993|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times.

The cross stirs up all kinds of emotion in people, from comfort to anguish, and it seems to symbolize everything from life to death.

Barbara Yates-Penny has found that artists reveal a wide array of those feelings in their work. She became fascinated by their responses to the symbol about three years ago, when she took a tour of artists' studios sponsored by the Arroyo Arts Collective of Highland Park.

"I kept seeing crosses in the work, and I kept seeing them in different ways," she said. "I was curious about the ways the cross comes through their consciousness."

Her excitement about the theme prompted one artist to suggest that she organize an exhibit on the subject. She has done just that, bringing a proposal to the Brand Library Art Galleries in Glendale that has resulted in "The Cross as a Symbol," a show of work in diverse media by 15 artists, including Yates-Penny.

"The theme can be controversial. That's what's so intriguing--how two intersecting lines can be such a big to-do," gallery director Cindy Cleary said.

"I was drawn to the idea of doing a show about a symbol. Doing it during Easter made it more interesting. As a public gallery, we cannot represent a particular religious viewpoint, so works that do are not in the show. It is the cross as a symbol, not as a religious icon. It's not just the symbol of Christianity."

"The cross is the oldest symbol in the world," Yates-Penny said. "It differed in shape and design as ancient peoples and civilizations differed, but in some form, throughout the history of mankind, the cross has existed and has held a vital significance and influence."

"The show is meant for all of us to question what it means, to be a catalyst for thinking about it, and the simple beauty of it--how something so simple can be so beautiful, depending on what the artist's interpretation of it is," Cleary said.

Yates-Penny, who said she is "not of any religion," sees the cross as a spiritual symbol that "talks to the higher part of all of us. The higher part is the God within us."

Her 1985 mixed-media "The Madonna's Cross," her first work to depict a cross, also presents symbols from a variety of cultures and philosophies, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. More recent works, such as "Oya, Goddess of Change," have taken the form of totems. "Oya" is made of wood, semiprecious stones, and beads of glass, bone and shell.

In one of Raoul De la Sota's paintings, vibrantly colored cacti are viewed through the cross formed by a window's structure. In his artist's statement, De la Sota refers to use of the cross as a symbol for the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and says, "If one is to perceive the Nopal cactus in my work as a symbol for those indigenous cultures and peoples of the Americas, then perhaps one can come closer to an understanding of my work."

In Beanie Kaman's "Memorial" series, acrylic, gouache, crayon, chalk and pastel are used to create minimalist yet warm and lively images of the cross. They were inspired by crosses she has seen along the roads of New Mexico. Decorated with flowers and mementos, the crosses are placed there by loved ones in memory of friends and relatives who have died in accidents at those spots.

The central cross in Nancy Ann Jones' installation, "Wheel of Hopes and Dreams," is formed from stones. Its end points connect to the four directions so important to native American culture, and to the significant elements of earth-based religions--earth, wind, fire and water.

Frederic Wong has fashioned a 3-D cross in his acrylic on Plexiglas "Void Where Prohibited." One will need to use red glasses--which are being provided by the artist--to see it.

Glen Doll has combined male and female aspects into one persona to make "Reunion," a large mixed-media image on Douglas fir. From Ron Pippin comes the finely built figure, "The Annunciator," and the statement: "The cross is the recapitulation of the work of creation; it is the epitome, the simple sign. . . . In short, it is a mystery."

Other artists represented in the show are Gregg Bayne, Sheri Bugalski, Richard Crowley, Cheri Pann, Linda Simon, Nancy Turner-Smith, Karen Frimkess Wolff and Michael Wood.

Where and When What: "The Cross as a Symbol." Location: Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale. Hours: 1 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through May 4. Opening Reception: 6 to 9 tonight. Call: (818) 548-2050.

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