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SIGHTS : Duo's Ceramics Impress With Fragile Yet Bold Style : A handsome show by Otto and Vivika Heino confirms they are prized assets of the Ojai art community.

June 01, 1995|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

We live in a world that seems to be growing ever inward, our minds lured away from the concrete by the stimuli of mass media and the bizarre expanding universe of cyberspace. It's enough to make you forget that the world is still built from objects and things tangible.

It is against this psychosocial backdrop and the general shifting relationship to physical reality that the work of ceramic artists Otto and Vivika Heino, celebrated in a wonderful exhibition at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, rises to a level of increased importance. What we find in this generous, handsomely presented show, curated by Tim Schiffer, is a potent, poetic reminder of the beauty of physicality, with vessels crafted with subtle mastery.

In a sense, the show is less a revelation than a confirmation. Based in a home-studio-showroom in Ojai that is often open to visitors, the Heinos are known internationally for their work and have long been considered one of the prized assets of the art community. They were lured to Ojai some 25 years ago through friendship with Ojai's "other" ceramic legend, Beatrice Wood.

In the rarefied space and intimate lighting of the gallery, the Heinos' handiwork gets a respectful, pristine presentation, which makes it look better than ever. It's one thing to visit the Heino showroom, another entirely to encounter it, elegantly laid out, in the museum.

There remains in certain corners of the art world a stigma regarding the viability of ceramic work in an art context, suggesting that it belongs rather in the realm of craft. This show supplies persuasive evidence for the defense of ceramic work.

Scale varies radically, from a large, rough-surfaced, cauldron-like pot to the tiny, squat, urchin-like bottles in a display case. In addition to the vessels of varying sizes, the Heinos display relief works on the walls, "tiles" decorated with spore-like polka dots or the archeological flora of fern and leaf decorations.

In the end, what makes this sampling of the Heinos' work so impressive is an operative sense of duality throughout the gallery: These pieces are bold yet fragile, commanding yet calm. Admirable for sheer physical presence and the hands-on ruggedness of creation, the exhibition also hums with a metaphysical, ruminative quality. In short: You have to be there.

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While at the museum, don't pass up the chance to see more of another celebrated Ojai resident's work. Horace Bristol, the photographer whose work was seen in a one-man show last year in the museum, is represented by a deceptively modest show of photographs of postwar Japan in the hallway back by the museum offices. In terms of the current art scene, this show is the best-kept secret in town.

Early showings of Bristol's work have focused on the dramatic pungency of his imagery from World War II or of his shots of migrant farm workers in California--a project that supposedly inspired John Steinbeck to write "Grapes of Wrath." These images from Japan are of a quieter demeanor, visually poetic images that bask in the tranquillity of everyday life after the war--literally and attitudinally.

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Speaking of famous ceramic artists living in Ojai, the vibrant and wry Beatrice Wood--everyone's favorite centenarian--is again showing her wares on local walls. This time out, though, the medium is drawing, and the space is the Ranch House, that idyllic restaurant/garden tucked into an offbeat path in Ojai.

The show, "Contemplating Beato," is a twofold affair. Wood, a.k.a. "Beato," shows several recent colored-pencil drawings, gently Cubist grids in which faces duck in and out of facets, drawn with a childlike simplicity. Sculptor Ronda LaRue handles the ceramic contingent, using an apt medium to portray Wood in a series of ceramic masks depicting the veteran artist in various, usually slightly wry or bemused, settings. "Young Men and Chocolates" refers to Wood's oft-quoted recipe for her longevity.

Details

* WHAT: "The Ceramic Work of Otto and Vivika Heino" and Horace Bristol photographs.

* WHEN: Through July 16.

* WHERE: Ventura County Museum of History and Art, 100 E. Main St., Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: Donation at door.

* CALL: 653-0323.

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