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Views From Abroad : Three artists from disparate parts of the British Commonwealth bring distinctive styles to Sylmar as part of 'UK / LA 1994.'

November 04, 1994|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

SYLMAR — The Rolling Stones have come and gone, leaving in their wake an exciting picture of life after age 50. It's debatable, though, how much their work says about British culture, which is currently--and coincidentally--being celebrated during "UK / LA 1994," a 67-day festival of British arts and culture that began Sept. 7.

The Stones' music is less a product of their homeland than a consummate distillation of American rock 'n' roll and blues. The group has taken some of the best of what America has to offer, made it their own and given that to people all over the world.

One can see another example of such artistic cross-pollination in the exhibit, "From the Commonwealth," at Century Gallery in Sylmar. The only UK / LA event in the San Fernando Valley, it's a show of work by three artists from disparate parts of the British Commonwealth.

"Everywhere the British have gone and colonized, they have forced their culture on the local inhabitants," said gallery director Lee Musgrave. "Then over time, the local inhabitants' culture has an influence on them."

That notion is evident in varying degrees in the work of three artists represented here. Eli Bornstein has lived in Saskatoon in Canada's Saskatchewan province for more than 40 years. John Davis was raised in the Australian bush. Andre Van Zijl was born in the former British colony of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

"Andre's (etchings and paintings) are a real mix of Anglo-European and African images," Musgrave said. Davis, on the other hand, is thoroughly immersed in the aesthetics of the Australian aborigines, and, according to Musgrave, "there's no Anglo culture" in his work.

In Bornstein's case, the influence of both British and native Canadian culture is subtle at best. Instead, said Musgrave, "Color is a large part of Eli's work. It's very spatial, expansive. It's more related to the environment than culture."

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Bornstein's very large, Constructivist-like works, dating from 1960 to 1983, are represented in the show by black and white and color photographs. As some of these images include the contexts in which the works have been exhibited, one can get a sense from them of the pieces' immense size. These colorful, abstract formations, which Bornstein calls "structurist reliefs," suggest such divergent images as trees, buildings, totem poles and space satellites.

Created out of aluminum, painted wood and steel, Bornstein's major commissions have included the International Air Terminal in Winnipeg (1962).

In contrast to Bornstein's large, bold creations, John Davis makes delicate, lyrical sculptures with twigs and cloth. In a catalogue essay, he writes that his more recent works, such as the 1992 "Pacific Collection," come out of his "present and abiding preoccupation" with two themes: the Australian desert landscape and the metaphor of the fish.

"Both," he writes, "are intertwined through the long history of our continent; where once were ancient seas and rivers, there now is desert. . . . One day, while exploring the Hattah Lakes in northwest Victoria, I came upon a small dried-out lake bed covered with the carcasses of dead fish, which had been dried out by the sun. It was an unexpected and startling sight.

"Fish," he says, "symbolize spirituality, in contrast to the materialistic earthbound approach to life. They become the psyche, the unconscious emotions and intuition, in contrast to the conscious body."

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Andre Van Zijl's small, hand-colored etchings force one to get close and involved in the turbulent human dramas of clashing cultures taking place on rather picturesque landscapes. His large paintings reflect similar conflicts with less detail and intimacy.

"These concerns are explored within the context of my own tribal identity. I come from Dutch stock who sought refuge in Africa nine generations ago; who sought shelter from the cultural and political impositions of the time," he writes.

"My identity has been shaped by the triple influences of my Afrikaner past, and my African-English present.

"This has caused me to be concerned about the relativity of histories--dominant cultures imposing their own views with little regard for the truths of 'minority' cultures. I consider that Western culture has lost its connection with the land."

Where and When

What: "From the Commonwealth."

Location: Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Ends Nov. 18.

Call: (818) 362-3220.

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