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Natural World Glows in Waxen 'Paintings' : Sensuous landscapes and abstracts calmly tease the line between reality and illusion.


Aside from the inherent, introspective beauty of Mary Koneff's darkly sensuous waxworks at the Brand Library, the artist is grappling with the issue of painting/anti-painting.

In this show, Koneff shows a deft hand in a tough medium, achieving a fluid gracefulness using wax and, occasionally, leaves. Dense thickets of color, layered and generously undercoated, contribute to a palette that is both throbbing with energy and muted.

The effect of her wax-on-wood pieces is dualistic, echoing the nature and illusionistic properties of paint-on-canvas, while also asserting its own life as a medium. We can't ignore the fact that wax acts as a covering or coating, sitting on top of a surface rather than being absorbed into it. With its slight reflective sheen and tactile feel, wax is once removed from painting.

The visual vocabulary here, though, is identifiably linked to painting traditions of landscape work and abstract expressionism. Koneff seems to be intrigued by impressionistic suggestions of nature--natural forces rather than specifics, the forest rather than the trees. Her pictures are often bisected by what we take to be waterfalls, gushing waterways, and, in one, a winding river as if seen through a blue fog. One hazy scene of a wooded area finds a brown object looming--a tree?--in the foreground, giving rhythm to the composition.

Koneff's work is all the more evocative for her careful poise between the tangible and the unexplained. She suggests an outer world, idealized by an inner vision.

Rough Charms: Laurent Diemer's collection of works in two and three dimensions, in the larger Brand gallery, conveys a fetching directness and an unforced naivete. Throughout the show, elemental shapes appear and reappear, though always in rough, simply drawn ways.

The artist often works in series, reworking a theme as if in search of an essence of expression, as suggested by the title of one series, "Looking for the Star." Here, we see endless variations and permutations of a five-point star, echoed by the "Star Bouquet," a series of wooden stars on spikes, mounted in flower pots at one end of the gallery.

In the series called "Seasights," imagery fashioned from wire sits atop murky white backdrops. They are reminiscent of childlike pictures drawn in the sand, ephemeral images scraped out on a summer's day of a fading youth.

Childlike innocence and resistance to polish also mark Diemer's sculptures assembled from hunks of raw wood. He creates letters from wood in "Forest Seeds" and a teardrop from carefully fitted pieces of redwood. The cannily titled sculpture "Controversial" evokes a tree reassembled, with crudely stacked sections of sycamore.

There is nothing particularly controversial about Diemer's work, apart from the resistance some feel in the presence of contemporary art of a conspicuously simple aesthetic. This is a show that benefits from the generous, well-lit space of the Brand gallery. The bold, almost startling simplicity of the work has a chance to breathe here, and to sink in.

* Mary Koneff and Laurent Diemer, through Feb. 27 at the Brand Library, 1601 W. Mountain St. in Glendale; (818) 548-2051.

Containment Policy: Margalit Mannor has a keen interest in envelopes, an interest bordering on obsession. In "Stretched Envelopes," her current show at Woodbury University, the conceptual artist displays the results of her investigations into the nature and expressive potential of these everyday objects to which we entrust private communiques.

Margalit examines the role of the envelope as an empty vessel, associated with concealment and transport. But this ostensibly trivial commodity is elevated to status as an icon and also used as a canvas.

Her earlier works, from the '70s, entail charcoal abstractions on envelopes themselves--legal size--shown here in acrylic plastic cases. In her photographic work from 1994, Margalit has taken macro-close-up shots of her '70s envelope pieces, but hardly with a dull, documentarian eye. Through manipulations of tint, strange focusing strategies and elliptical compositions, these photographs become respective artworks on their own.

The subtext here has to do with paying attention to details of the concrete world that we take for granted. Depending on your perspective, you may come away from the show recognizing the lowly envelope's ingenuity of design and the artist's sensitivity--or you may see it as much ado about precious little.

Regardless, Margalit's art is about the multilayered process of inquiry, ultimately reflecting back on the investigative spirit of conceptual art.

* "Stretched Envelopes" by Margalit Mannor, through Feb. 22 at the Woodbury University art gallery, 7500 Glenoaks Blvd. in Burbank; (818) 767-0888.

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