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SIGHTS : The Art of Healing : The annual show of works by patients at Camarillo Hospital Gallery reveals intensity and dedication.


The road is lined with things idyllic: peaceful, green open spaces and tilled soil and a "Deer Crossing" sign. On the property itself, a sign reads "Pedestrians have the right of way at all times." Red-tiled roofs and a general aura of retreat prevails.

Welcome to Camarillo State Hospital and Developmental Center, one of the most peaceful enclaves in Ventura County, a suitable environment for healing. The tranquillity of the place is not lost on those who stay there. In the front room of the "Creative Discoveries Art Show," David H.'s pastel work, "Welcome to Camarillo," depicts the hospital as a bastion of calm.

David H., who goes by the pseudonym Roxy L. Victoria, was on hand last weekend to show visitors his other art in the exhibit, including an elaborate work done with felt-tip markers alluding to the pyramids, Jesus and other archetypes under the sun. "This one took me five or six days to finish," he said, beaming proudly.

Another patient wandered through the gallery looking for something to buy, bewildered by the options. "I don't know which one I want. There are so many to choose from," he repeated, mantra-like.

Through this weekend, the large art exhibition offers a substantial glimpse inside the healing process. Shown in the 10th annual event are works produced through the Art Therapy / Fine Arts Discovery program, founded by Jack Cheney and now run in collaboration with Leslie Hara.

These exhibitions every June have come to represent a unique and rewarding niche in the local art scene. If the artists are often technically limited, the intensity and dedication of their work is often anything but casual. Nowhere else can you find such rich deposits of earnest abstraction, foggy innocence, and places in between.

As in past exhibitions, there are recurring themes that arise with the artists here--Jackson Pollock-esque splatters and comic-book characters chief among them. Even with the simplest subject matter, a fresh perspective is often present, as with Sue B.'s "Teddy" and Krissy D.'s "Dog," cuddly creatures whose distortions become part of the expressive muscle.

Hosea's understated "Passion" is a mystical image describing dark green forms in another realm of being, and Danny F. shows a keen balance of abstract attitudes in "Facing Inward." Kim P.'s "Feeling Fine," vaguely figurative squiggles on an orange background, is simple but affecting. We look for the subtexts in these paintings, but the visuals themselves are impressive.

Sometimes, the strongest images are those that blur figures and abstract elements, as with Tom's "Happy Flowers," all faint floral outlines on a murky pastel bed. In Maria A.'s "Friendly Ghost," the blob-like subject, against an ocher ground, takes on mythical proportions.

Martin P. is the resident master of farm-life renderings, depicting, with a bold assurance in magic marker, the fine points of farmhouses and especially tractors. Michael M. depicts a wistful family picnic scene in pencil and crayon, while the prolific Kerry S. shows photographs and realistically detailed fantasy scenes, such as the densely packed "Children's Wonderland," fashioned like "A Peaceable Kingdom."

During the past year, art, in various media, has gained considerable momentum as a force in the hospital's program. An ongoing art gallery, called Art Equals Life, is now open on a regular basis, showing the best of work produced through the program. "We've become a model for these kinds of programs," said Cheney as he stood in the gallery.

One of the guest artists invited to the hospital was video artist Wendy Clarke, who encouraged patients to express themselves in the form of "video masks." By creating masks and improvising--or scripting--commentary in front of a camera, the artists tap into powers of both visual art and role-playing.

As Cheney said, "all these media feed into each other" in providing clients windows for expression. As with any artistic process, the results and discoveries can be a learning experience for all involved.


* WHAT: "Creative Discoveries Art Show."

* WHEN: Today and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ends Sunday.

* WHERE: Camarillo State Hospital, 1878 S. Lewis Road, Camarillo.

* HOW MUCH: Free.

* CALL: 484-3661, Ext. 4216.

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