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SIGHTS : An Artistic Marriage of Old World and New : Couple's majestic miniatures pay tribute to painters of the past with irreverent humor.

August 10, 1995|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"A Union of Works," an art exhibition by Jim Russell and Carolyn Doty-Russell, is one of those rare finds in any art scene, even here in Ventura County. It's a deceptively modest little show, tucked away in an unassuming nook of a venue, but well worth going out of your way to see.

Anyone roaming or bustling through the halls of Ventura City Hall's west wing, next to the City Council chambers, might not even notice the works, which are smallish and dark of palette. They are not splashy or gregarious. Yet there is majesty in these miniatures. Although their means and ends differ, these artists, married in life and in direction, bring similarly flexible attitudes toward materials and historical reference points in their paintings. They also seem to share an appreciation of dry, understated humor.

In recent years, both artists have had work appear in the Assembly of the Arts group shows at the Ventura Museum of History and Art, enriching that institution's potential staleness with fresh, irreverent ideas.

Jim Russell's tiny landscapes--postcard-sized, really--address the stomping grounds of 19th-Century British painter J.W. Turner. Moody seas and varicolored skies often carry an " . . . After Turner," addendum in the title, as with "Sunrise with Sea Monsters After Turner." Of course, these pieces are very much "after" Turner, and beneath him: inebriated appropriations of his influence.

For one thing, the materials and scale vary radically. Russell uses watercolors on shellac on wall compound on paper, with a sum effect that suggests newly discovered, wry relics from another age.

Carolyn Doty-Russell's paintings differ from her husband's, but share a half-bowing, half-smirking tribute to pre-modern ideas about the landscape. Her "Desert Storm" paintings are eloquent studies in obfuscation. Ambiguous clouds of smoke blur the views of desert scenes in what could be read as metaphors of misunderstanding.

Her "Water Music" paintings are swarthy, swirling odes to minor moments in the great, watery outdoors.

Best and most distinctive of all, Doty-Russell's "Hubcap Dream" series aspires to the strange promise of its title. These small round canvases are like portholes of the mind looking out on invitingly desolate landscapes where weed patches, trailers and Quonset huts, and high-tension poles on the horizon share the terrain with emblematic, lost hubcaps.

These trashy talismans show up in the strangest and funniest places, in paintings rendered with Doty-Russell's muted, grimy twilit palette.

In other words, this is a show not to miss in the regional scheme of things.

Details

* FYI: "A Union of Works," by Jim Russell and Carolyn Doty-Russell, through August at the Ventura City Hall, corner of Poli and California Streets, west wing, upstairs; 648-1235.

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