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SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : Show Offers Similarities, Differences : Works by husband and wife painters are on exhibit at Conejo Valley Art Museum.

August 19, 1993|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Walking through the two-person show at the Conejo Valley Art Museum, you're accosted by similarities and differences under one roof, under one family name.

One artist broods, the other doesn't. One dwells on pensive, surging bursts of imagery, the other exudes good cheer and deals mostly in giddy hues.

One, the late Rodolfo Nieto (1937-1984), was a painter of potent post-Picasso-esque works, who found his way working with a primal-tinged mode of abstraction and post-Cubist sensibilities, while maintaining his Mexican roots.

His wife, Nancy Glenn Nieto, veers more toward the friendly, folkloric side of things Hispanic.

In Thousand Oaks, the twain meets in mysterious ways. Sometimes, it doesn't meet at all.

The couple met in Mexico City, where Nancy Glenn went to study art, and where they were married in 1969. Nancy often assisted her mate in his work, and her art clearly taps into the traditions, culture and mythology of Mexico. Nonetheless, the two artists seem to come from entirely separate places, ideologically.

Her lighthearted depictions of creatures and figures from Mexican lore, including Zapata, are gently surrealistic--or, should we say, frivolously decorative?

Rodolfo produced somewhat tormented canvases such as "The Blue Personage"--drawing the viewer's eye into the muted impression of an abstracted face--and nocturnal visions such as self-explanatory "The Night Sees All." His "Bull" demonstrates Cubist-like organization of planes grafted onto muscular animal portraiture.

Nancy, meanwhile, dives into a surfeit of cuteness in such affected animalia as "The Owl Who Didn't Give a Hoot." Even when her iconography leans toward the morbid stuff of skeletons, it is with a crafty Dia de Los Muerto s- like festivity.

At her best, she nods in the direction of that female legend of Mexican art, Frida Kahlo. The imposing painting, "Frida Contemplates Death," finds the famed late artist amid a skull and festooned with a frilly halo, framed by vines and a parquet floor, all of which serves to accent her bold, archetypal appearance.

Kahlo was a paradoxical blend of frankness and enigma, the qualities that give Nancy's painting its strength.

Working from another perspective altogether, the late Rodolfo showed a sense of dark romanticism with his freely expressive mixture of primitive figuration and abstraction--such as in "Blurred Samurai"--that borrowed from influences of Mexican art heritage and early modernist innovations.

It would be interesting to see a larger display focused more on his works, undimmed by the garrulous glee of his partner's brush.

But, whether or not the conflicting instincts hang well together in a single space, this show manages to represent a celebration of two views of Mexican art--an all-too rare occurrence in the Euro- and U.S.--centric quarters of the art world.

FAIR ENOUGH: The prize hogs and barking carnies have descended on the Ventura County Fairgrounds for the annual fete, and all-American tradition, known as the county fair.

But far from the madding crowds and glaring seductions of greasy food and cheap thrills, tucked away in a cozy corner, is another county fair tradition--the amateur art competition. This is the finest regional public outpouring of art-making-for-its-own-sake of the year.

Two exhibit halls over, you'll find the more reliably high-caliber display of art--the 24th annual Adah Callahan Juried Art Show. But nothing beats the tingle of finding diamonds in the rough, amateur images that leap up from the predictable mass.

Much of what you see is familiar, county fair game: sea, animal and plant life rendered with skills ranging from modest to gifted, if lacking in vision beyond the visuals. But then, as happens every year, selected images jump out and pique the eye, for various reasons.

Leonard Bates' painting shows fuzzy cows on a sloshy pasture, egalitarian figures on a landscape. David Kullikoff's collection of nine small, Spartan pen-and-ink drawings pay a homey homage to the art of goin' fishin.' S. Lair shows an appealingly kooky little number, with a Dalmation on the telephone.

Jim Dunham's work is a bizarre, clunky surrealistic pillow of a painting. He depicts a comely circus performer dancing on an anvil, holding a top hat full of playing cards, with a hook for a hand and a cyclone in the distance. A black cat looks on this trans-logical spectacle blandly. Go figure.

One of Jim Schulte's impressively super realist drawings gains intrigue via its odd perspective, of a boy on the beach as seen from beneath a lifeguard station.

For my money, the most striking--and peculiar--artwork in this year's show is Adam Badik's 3-D construct, a simple interior view with an attitude. A weird hermetic atmosphere hovers over this depiction of a blue easy chair drowning in a backdrop of brown walls painted with cake frosting-like brush strokes.

The finishing touch, though, is the three-dimensional window, which literally recedes into the raised surface of the canvas, looking out to a blue sky.

Accidental aesthetics such as we find here can be a beautiful thing, the domain of folk-art ingenuousness, the envy of truth-seeking fine artists everywhere.

* WHERE AND WHEN

* "Hispanic Art" by Rodolfo Nieto and Nancy Glenn Nieto, through Sept. 5 at the Conejo Valley Art Museum, 193-A N. Moorpark Road (in the Janss Mall) in Thousand Oaks. Info: 373-0054

* Amateur art competition at the Ventura County Fair, Ventura County Fairgrounds located within Seaside Park at the west end of Harbor Boulevard in Ventura. Aug. 18 through 29.

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