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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Ojai Painter Shuns the Traditional

February 15, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD

Artist Kelley McDowell has no qualms about the naivete that fuels her paintings, now on display at Wheeler Hot Springs. The artist, wife of actor Malcolm McDowell and an Ojai resident, shows an engagingly crude, unfussy style of figuration, with gloppy paint application and an almost paint-by-numbers use of blocks of color. Her work seems to align itself more with folk art than traditional art world standards.

But McDowell's art doesn't lack for charm, with portraits of legendary figures--from Martin Luther King Jr. to George Washington to Agnes Samuels, the "mother of the James Gang." She often trains an eye on scenes of black Americana, or evokes turn-of-the-century magazine art in a piece such as "See Saw Girls."

McDowell is also keenly conscious of framing. Whether bordered by faux antique, mock-gilded or careworn, battered old frames, her paintings look like art salvaged from an imaginary attic. She has wrapped the Agnes Samuels portrait, for instance, in a blue frame with rivets, while she has lavished a portrait of a triumphant Muhammad Ali in the ring with an imposing octagonal frame.

"Amateurish" art rarely looked so good.

* Kelley McDowell, through Monday at Wheeler Hot Springs, 16825 Maricopa Highway in Ojai; 646-9787.

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