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Garden of Delights : * Elizabeth J. Berry says her Brand Library galleries exhibit celebrates "the sexy, the sensuous, the fun." Some dark, frightening images offer a balance.

March 25, 1994|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times.

GLENDALE — To enter the realm of Elizabeth J. Berry at the Brand Library Art Galleries is to lose oneself in an ambience of sensuous shapes and colors.

Constructions and paintings in her installation, "Unfinished Business," draw viewers into fruitful gardens, the nature of the four seasons and charming visions of camaraderie.

"You have to promote and support and celebrate the bright, the sexy, the sensuous, the fun," Berry said. "If you only look at the dark, the bad, that's what you're going to get."

But don't expect nirvana here. Although Berry presents images that convey life's joy, she also reflects upon some of its ghastly aspects.

Her brightly colored, house-like construction filled with replicas of apples, eggs and other earthly delights represents her idealized desire for children to be raised in gardens.

But the piece refers to the "sins of the fathers" and is called "House of Incest." A smiling but scary, sun-like father figure stands over the structure.

The shape at the bottom of "Father Box" is a coffin. The face of the father is "nasty, creepy," but, Berry said, it "nonetheless is still a life-giving force.

"Maleness is not inherently bad, but given the shape of human history, the balance between male and female, and within individuals, is out of balance."

Although she enjoyed bridging craftsmanship with fine art in her early constructions, the power of their implications became frightening to her.

"I needed to distance myself from them, so I started painting," something she had not done since she graduated from college in 1981, Berry said.

Originally from the East Coast, she lived in Los Angeles for 2 1/2 years before beginning a divorce and moving back to Rochester, N.Y., in 1992. "The objects are much more constructed. The paintings are a lot more intuitive."

Berry began a series of egg-shaped images on wood called "Power Shields," symbolic forces that served as her protection. The process of making them involved a building up and sanding down of many layers of paint and other mediums, such as gold or silver leaf.

With the egg shape as a symbol for generative powers, the womb and blood, "I'm exploring aspects of woman-ness," Berry said. Her use of the word "sister" in the titles of images relating to the seasons--such as "Sister Moon Over Spring"--is "a conscious choice to reclaim things for women--the female aspect to them."

But she is also concerned with larger, inclusive symbolism. In one "shield," the egg becomes sperm. "I try to look at the marriage of the forces, not the combat in them," she said.

The emotional "Angry Woman Shield" and "Crying Child Shield"--of paper, graphite, beeswax, colored pencil and acrylic--were done after a visit with her parents at Christmas last year.

The "Memory Shield," which she also began after the holidays, "went through a zillion different appearances," Berry said. "Do we protect ourselves by bearing memory? Is it a good thing to always mine and unearth? There is depth in the layers, but also a glossing over."

Berry considers the "L.A. Egg" a transition piece, one of the first of her less weighty works.

The egg floats in front of an abstract landscape of lighter, almost pastel tones, but they are not entirely joyous. "I see that sky as beautiful, and as smoggy, murky sky. The grass is not real green."

A more recent, cheerful construction such as "Three Sisters" combines eggshells with luscious materials--beads, bells and peacock feathers--to revel in the joys of women's friendships.

"Birth of Emma," in honor of Berry's niece, joins wooden eggs with velvet, glitter and bird likenesses.

Among her latest paintings are the "Receding" shields. "I don't need them so much anymore," she said. "The paintings taught me that an awful lot of healing can happen on an intuitive level."

Also in the gallery are assemblages by Gail Tomura. A fine complement to Berry's work, Tomura's pieces depict the lighter and darker sides of life with "a gracious acceptance of both sides," she said.

Tomura combines contrasting materials such as burnt matches and glitter to express this dichotomy and "to show that they can be compatible and harmonious. It is visually beautiful to blend those things together," she said. "The tactile quality is so key."

"Resigned & Gracious" showcases a woman with black hair and brown eyes and, like the other work, is "somewhat autobiographical in nature," she said.

LIAISON: WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Elizabeth Berry: Installation" and "Gail Tomura: Assemblage."

Location: Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale.

Hours: 1 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends April 5.

Call: (818) 548-2050.

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