Chances are, even if you haven't recently been to Wheeler Hot Springs and seen C. Stewart Parker's distinctive imagery on the walls, you have seen his handiwork--at a music outlet near you.
A young Scottish emigre, Parker supplies the apt art for the cover of "Traffic From Paradise," the latest album by Ojai resident Rickie Lee Jones. The two, it should be noted, are presently playing each other's better halves.
But, incidental romantic intelligence aside, the Jones connection is a telling one. Parker's cover art, also part of his Wheeler show, is roughly a visual match for Jones' ramblingly folkish, ambiguously anecdotal music. This is art with a hip drawl, a cocked fedora hat, and a fondness for a lost era.
In the album cover image, we see many of the recurring motifs in Parker's aesthetic vocabulary--or at least the one displayed in this crop of works. Men with angular noses, improbably big coats and outstretched hands, are gushing forth streams of smoke--are these from a cigarette? Metaphors for poetry? They saunter through a clouded sky, stepping right out of a dream.
On the index of art-historical evocations, the image falls somewhere between WPA-era social realism--with its Ben Shahn-like contours--and R. Crumb's "Keep on Truckin' " poster art.
Throughout the exhibition, Parker himself steps into a dream world of his own devising, where vaporous forms of clouds and smoke streams--sensuous souls with pouty lips--and expressionistic angles merge happily.
While Parker's work has a lifeline to the casual hipness of graphic art, it also summons up a variety of art world references. His world is one recalling Leger's machine Cubist figures, Botero's bloated fops, and the orderly irrationality of Magritte's surrealism.
Like Folon's highly stylized figures, Parker's characters drift freely between solid realism and dreamy detachment.
In his three large full-body portraits on one wall, well-chiseled, sad young men in inflatable outer wear bathe in the luminous glow of mysterious spotlights. In "The Darkroom Twins," Parker plays off the juxtaposition of soft-edged, bulbous vintage autos and cloud formations.
All in all, Parker manages to create images that are, at once, moody and giddy, frothy and provocative, tender and street-wise. Not unlike Jones' music.
Dates play a significant role in the saga of painter John A. Dominique, whose work--mostly impressionistic landscapes from the region--can currently be seen at the Oaks in Ojai. He has lived in Ojai since 1959, in Santa Barbara before that beginning in 1920, and on the planet since 1893.
One more date leaps out of the centenarian's bio: he has been legally blind since the late '70s. But he has continued his lifelong practice of pushing paint around, on swirl, drip and splatter abstractions that, not surprisingly, bear a resemblance to floral patterns. He's got nature in the blood.
This show selectively covers Dominique's art from the late '20s through to 1993. In his early work, he had a loose, light, impressionistic appreciation of his natural subjects, sans any human presence. Views of Santa Barbara beach from 1930 are notably lacking any beachcombers or tourists.
A 1969 view of Matilija Creek deploys an almost pointillistic brushwork strategy, a tapestry of dabbed, interactive color. Blurred edges and marshy spaces in "Compositional Evening" give it a misty and mystical character.
ART AT THE CENTER
Currently at the Ojai Center for the Arts is a loosely bound group show with some highlights worth noting.
In the lobby, hiding shyly in a corner, is Nancy Whitman's capricious "Dinner Party," depicting, with the artist's usual post-Matisse pink glaze, well-heeled diners around a table.
The image, though, isn't as innocent as it appears on cursory glance. The subjects, with their maniacal grins, are perched around the table like well-stuffed bourgeoisie. We're not sure if the artist is celebrating the social aura or satirizing its self-indulgence, and that ambivalent perspective gives the painting its odd charm.
Also of interest is the work of Kristine Grey. "El Rio" is a portrait of a young girl that gains character through its very clunkiness of means, the rough planes and dense hues. Her "La Nina" marshals a tough-textured, hyped-up landscape energy.
In stark contrast, Frank Kirk's "Gardener's Cottage" is a Superrealist, every-leaf-in-place tribute to shrubbery. "Two Fish Chasing the Moon" is another of Ruth Farnham's enchantingly elemental paintings, with its subjects cast as minimal mythical emblems.
Josef Woodard is an avowed cultural omnivore who covers art and music.
* ONE: C. Stewart Parker, through Nov. 7 at Wheeler Hot Springs, 16825 Maricopa Highway in Ojai; 646-8131.
* TWO: John A. Dominique through October at the Oaks, 122 E. Ojai Ave. in Ojai; 646-5573.
* THREE: Group show, through October at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St.; 646-0117.