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Going Back in Time : Ancient rocks and the early cultures of Italy provide inspiration for two artists.

July 23, 1993|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

Painter J. Anthony Vergona spends part of his time making art for the sets of the television show "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Ironically, a main source of inspiration for that work, and his illusionary paintings on view at Orlando Gallery, has been fossils.

"Ever since taking childhood trips to the museum, I have admired the power of fossils to withstand the test of time, to endure through the ages, bringing forward the shadows of what once was and challenging us to ponder how we came to be and to ask where we may be going," Vergona wrote in an article that appeared earlier this year in the bilingual literary and art magazine "Luz en Arte y Literatura."

In the gallery show "Vessels of the Spirit," Vergona reflects on our coming and going. The arachnid- or crustacean-like figure of "With Tattoos" recalls the imprints of their kind found in primeval rocks. The abstract characters in "Between He & She" seem like prehistoric creatures, yet one can readily see in them a man and woman having a discussion about the child between them.

Other paintings take viewers into more elusive territory. "Square Rings" looks like a view of a planet from space. Although Vergona describes "Empty Sky" as "the last thing you'd see if you fell off the Titanic in the middle of the night--a seascape," he also said his intent was to "allow everybody to project on it themselves."

"I'm fascinated by the fact that he is involved with imagery that transcends into space," gallery director Bob Gino said. "The dimensional quality is unbelievable. He takes you into the piece. Even though they're flat, you go into them." The intricate texture of the paint within "Red Cross," "White Cross" and "Blue Cross" makes even these clearly defined forms illusionary. "They depict what I was connected to in parochial school, the way you were told to visualize your soul--something to keep unblemished," he said.

Vergona, who graduated from Taft High School in 1963 and now lives in Tujunga, uses all kinds of tools in his application of paint, including panel saws, templates and razor blades. "I like construction. I like working with elements outside the traditional aspects of painting," he said. He also makes his own frames, some of which form highly irregular shapes. These "non-traditional windows" on art, as he calls them, are a "clearer way to get some atmospheric space," he said. "I want to work outside preconceived notions of what I thought I should be doing, to discover how to see things in a different way."

ITALIAN INFLUENCE: In a little more than a week, painter and printmaker Roberta Kritzia will leave her Van Nuys home for almost two months in Italy.

Her first visit to Italy was in 1985. She has gone back every year since to continue her study of early cultures there, particularly that of the Etruscans. There are records of them living in what is now known as Tuscany dating back to about 1000 B.C.

"They were a civilization when Rome was a collection of mud huts," said Kritzia, 53. "I became fascinated by the faces of Italians, the native intelligence of the people and the layering of one culture on top of another. The walls I've observed in Italy--the patina of these walls represents one layer over another. They don't knock down their buildings."

During the last two years, the notion of layering has become part of her work. Unsatisfied with the lack of depth in her prints, she began to bring different pieces of paper together, including etchings and embossings, to make abstract collages that reflect the rich textures of her experiences with Italy. More than 15 of these works are on view at Le Cafe Restaurant & Jazz Club in the show "Ancient Riffs."

"I like Roberta's work because it's got a sense of the European old world and a contemporary feel too," Le Cafe owner Paul Jaffe said.

There are the familiar arches of the Ponte Vecchio in two collages. A Japanese symbol in one work is indicative of "my interest in other cultures too," she said. Some elements of her compositions represent the Etruscan people.

Beyond her artwork, Kritzia has been motivated to introduce people to Italy in a more direct way. During her upcoming trip there, she will lead a small group from the Los Angeles area on a 16-day Italian journey, visiting hill towns unknown to most Americans. Kritzia enjoys "sharing what I know with other people," she said. "Being Italian is a state of mind."

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "J. Anthony Vergona: Vessels of the Spirit."

Location: Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Aug. 2.

Call: (818) 789-6012.

Other exhibit: Paintings by Vergona dating from the 1960s to the present are on view at the Eclectic Gallery, 5156 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, through Aug. 15. Call (818) 760-2233.

What: "Ancient Riffs by Roberta Kritzia."

Location: Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Aug. 15.

Call: (818) 986-2662.

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