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SIGHTS : Laser Print Exhibition Proves to Be High-Tech Ally of Artists : In the Carnegie Art Museum show, color copiers emerge as an expressive tool for manipulating imagery.

March 10, 1994|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Art is often put in the position of championing life outside of the technological and industrial revolutions. But for the half-dozen artists whose works comprise the exhibition, "The Machine: Making Art With the Laser Printer," at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, machinery is a friend and ally.

Specifically, the Machine in the show's title and embraced by the individual artists is the color copier. Because of technological advances in recent years, color copiers have emerged as an expressive tool, capable of manipulating and appropriating imagery.

The copier phenomenon has left its mark on a growing number of artists lured by its capacity to manipulate imagery. As artist Paul Darrow suggests in a statement, "The copy shop rather than the coffeehouse is the place to meet other artists."

Not all the art in this cross-section makes a strong personal statement. But what the show succeeds in giving us is a tantalizing glimpse at how machinery and artists can live together in symbiotic bliss.

The most dramatic examples of laser printer work in the show, in scale and effect, are those of Jennifer Griffiths, whose large pieces greet the visitor from the museum's back wall. A painter and photographer before she met the Machine, Griffiths finds a felicitous union of disciplines in these works.

She blends her own photos with found photos and impressionistic sweeps of painterly images. Thematically, her pieces draw on memory and dream states as in "Recurring Nightmare" and "Remembering." And, as in dreams and memories, the amorphous meets the concrete and recognizable, setting up a tension that gives her work vibrancy.

Another sort of dream-world chronicler, Charlotte Myers offers sharp-edged collages involving crazy quilts of illogically placed images. Set on black backgrounds, they serve to heighten the deceptive clarity of what we're seeing.

In "Wonderland Revisited," a golden pear, a white rabbit and a curtain are among the visual non-sequitors contributing to the gleeful irrationality.

Whereas the other artists in this show--most of whom hail from Laguna--lean on the Machine's ability to copy and incorporate real-world images, Paul Darrow's own work tends toward organized abstractions, variations on circles.

Diane Holland calls her series "Somatic Telesthesia," using Xerography and Cibachrome photography to create images both evocative and nostalgic. Like Griffiths, Holland dips into murky areas of personal memory to present blurred intimations of childhood/innocence lost or half-remembered.

The odd 3-D artist out, Janet Mackaig transcends the 2-dimensionality of the other works in the show. Her "Obituary Series" consists of multimedia assemblages in which laser printing is but one element in the process.

But it's a critical element, as the lone electronic, conspicuously technological aspect in otherwise primitive, tactile-relief sculptures. She prints copies of photographs of natural scenes onto fabric, integrated into constructions also made of drywall mud, gesso, acrylics and hay.

Superfluous to this is the textual element of the series, in which attributes such as Honesty, Loving, and Peace and Quiet, are given grimly ironic "obituaries" notices, attached to the works like toe tags.

The most plainly painterly artist of the lot is Tom S. Fricano, who uses unlikely source material--images salvaged from mail-order catalogues such as L.L. Bean. Then comes the all-important processing process, experimenting with chemicals and distortions of scale to create dense thickets of visual info.

The results are analogous to abstract expressionist paintings of flattened dimensions, with ghostly hints of familiar figures or faces peering out of the mystical mazes of illusionary "brush strokes."

One of the appeals of laser printing in this info-glutted age is its flexibility in allowing artists to indulge freely in appropriation. It's a collage-minded artist's dream.

The real aesthetic hat trick lies in knowing when to say when, how to restrain the ease of image-making and find a personalized sense of order. Consider this show a progress report, a glimpse at artists in the process of finding themselves via the Machine.

ART DOWN THE BLOCK

The Carnegie Art Museum continues its forward momentum, as it becomes a central facility for art in an area desperately in need of such a resource. The building has ample enough space to accommodate multiple shows simultaneously.

Currently, visitors to the Museum can view the sizable laser print show as well as the historical photography exhibit "Mujeres de Armas (Women in Arms)" upstairs, and sculpture by Albert Stewart from the collection of Patricia Jump, as well as an exhibition of pieces from the permanent collection. For a small-town museum, the resources are impressive.

One recent development is the establishment of a back gallery for Ventura County-based artists under the curatorial heading of "Masters in Our Midst." It currently features the photography of Mark Matthews. As Carnegie curator Suzanne Bellah noted, "The focus in this gallery is to be responsive to local needs and provide a spur for artists. There aren't a lot of forums for local artists right now."

Details

* WHAT: "The Machine: Making Art with the Laser Printer," "Mujeres de Armas (Women in Arms)" and sculpture by Albert Stewart from the collection of Patricia Jump, continue through March 27. Photography by Mark Matthews through April.

* WHERE: Carnegie Art Museum, 424 S. C St., Oxnard.

* ETC: For more information, call 385-8157.

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