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SIGHTS : A Great Resource for Artwork Abides by Banking Hours : Ventura County National Bank has been a hub of exhibition. 'Visions XXXI' features paintings, sculpture.

January 06, 1994|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Art spaces wax and wane in Ventura County. With that swaying motion go the spirits of resident art observers, alternately swept into feeling as if there's some indigenous cultural groundswell and then left dejected by the blur of sameness.

We've seen both extremes in 1993, a best/worst dichotomy if ever there was one.

To grab an easy pun, the Ventura Arts Council, that once-vital central nervous system in the art circuit here, lost its Momentum--the gallery, that is. After closing its spacious gallery in the spring, it took stock and reopened a humbler but useful Momentum this fall. Down, but not out.

There are a few steady pillars in the otherwise unstable scene, and one of the more reliable galleries abides by banking hours. Ventura County National Bank, at the base of the looming tower in Oxnard, has been a hub of art exhibition for some time. They're up to presenting "Visions XXXI," a reassuring Roman numeral.

If often toeing the kind of conservative aesthetic line that you might expect in a bank, the shows usually provide some stimuli, and the steady exhibitional flow is a good role model for corporate patronage when it's most needed.

Nothing outlandish or intellectually taxing transpires in the current show of painters Gail Pidduck and Susan Petty, and sculptors Michelle Chapin, Eric Richards and Len Evans. This art won't disturb casual visitors who yearn to feel secure and comfortable when visiting their financial institution-of-choice. But there are pleasures to be appreciated here.

For the most part, Petty and Pidduck cover the floral and landscape fronts in their own respective ways, with Petty training an eye mostly on floral still lifes and Pidduck working with broader outdoor scenes.

In her best works in this show, Petty pushes the envelope of visual complexity to an almost psychedelic degree. In "Persian Rug" and "Mirror Cloth," floral arrangements are cast aswirl in dizzying, busy backgrounds. These dense thickets are more interesting, for their sheer over-the-top quality, than the calmer, straighter pieces.

On the other end of the density spectrum is her mysteriously spare "Limoneira," in which the venerable Santa Paula lemon ranch is seen as little more than a ghostly splotch of leafy green in the fog. Her "Fire Season" also has a loose, diaphanous feel, gently abstracting the incendiary subject.

Pidduck strikes a regional chord with such pieces as "End of the Road--Wheeler Canyon" or "Evening in Steckel Park," bathed in limpid late afternoon light. When humans do enter into the picture, they are denim-clad farmers, as if caught in snapshots.

Best of all, there is "Chief," a strangely charismatic, skewed portrait of a rooster--properly paid tribute to as both a symbol of agrarian life and a matter of animal fact.

The three sculptors on display are connected only by their complementary diversity. Chapin's sinuous abstract marble concoctions contrast starkly with Evans' folk art-ish wood creations, all brute charm and whimsy.

The material and the milieu shift radically yet again with the work of Richards, who likes rusty metal and life-size dimensions. "Lawn Drunk" is a lanky metal piece, in the process of either lunging or toppling, like a tipsy party guest who has worn out his welcome and sobriety.

All of this, and friendly tellers too.

METAPHYSICAL GRAFFITI

Bill Surgett's work, at the Buenaventura Gallery through this weekend, takes the idea of mixed media to heart. Mixed and mismatched media might be a more appropriate term to describe his lightly subversive art.

In his statement, the artist speaks of "focused ambiguity . . . a sort of intellectual mass of symbols and details (as possibilities) that harmonize with the focal background."

At base, Surgett's stuff might seem to bear the markings of a post-modern prankster. All that's missing are the punch lines.

Nothing is straight or purist. Frames appear in fragmented, abutted, reconfigured and otherwise altered states. He thrusts craggy clay slabs up against slick paintings of multicolored spheres that look like New Age mandalas.

While he ties these studies in contrast to sententious, metaphysical texts, it's hard to know how to take the works, which walk a fine line between gallery art and spiritual kitsch.

He fares best with his "Cut-Out" series, where the scattered shards of paintings appear to have had bites taken out of them, or that ooze their iridescent color pools outside the ineffectual frames.

Surgett wields a deconstructionist impulse, but with kid gloves on.

THE YEAR THAT WAS

A selected, thumbnail review of memorable art shows in Ventura County art last year: "Assembly of the Arts" and Horace Bristol, at the Ventura Museum; Charles Craig's "Very Prestigious Collection of 19th- and 20th-Century Drawings and Watercolors," at Conejo Art Museum; "Intimate Lies" and "Luminosus," at Art City II; Camarillo State Hospital art exhibit; Mark Matthews, Michael D. B. Kelley and Sue Ricards, at John Nichols Gallery; Ojai Studio Tour; Margaret Adachi/Cheryl Riley, at Ventura College; "3 Artists: Common Origins/Different Paths," at Carnegie Art Museum.

Details

* WHAT: Works by Susan Petty, Gail Pidduck, Michelle Chapin, Eric Richards and Len Evans, and Bill Surgett.

* WHERE: Ventura County National Bank, 500 Esplanade Drive, Oxnard, 482-8811; Surgett at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura, 648-1235.

* WHEN: Through Jan. 14; Surgett through Sunday.

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