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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

CSUN Gallery Showcases 3 Genres of Creativity

The offerings include sculpture that may be furniture, culturally diverse illustrations for children's books, and the language of the hobo.

February 15, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Josef Woodard is an avowed cultural omnivore who covers art and music

Sculptor--or furniture-maker--Robert Wilhite was never one to leave well enough alone, to calmly accept preconceived ideas or lines of demarcation. In his "sound art" pieces of many years ago, Wilhite created sculptures that broke a code of silence and squirmed into the world of musical instruments.

A sampling of the fruits of his various efforts over a 20-year period is on display in a modestly scaled but slyly provocative show, "Furniture, Sculpture, Sticks," at CSUN.

In its deadpan way, the show's title suggests a dialectical questioning that runs through the three aspects of Wilhite's work. What is it that separates fine art from fine furniture, or aesthetics from craft? Is it the ratio of form to function? The artist's intention? Sometimes, the distinctions are less binding than we'd expect.

"Stick Arrangement" serves as a reminder of the artist's most basic resources. Here, he shows an obvious affection for the properties and malleability of wood, and reduces woodwork to its simplest component, the stick.

VALLEY WEEKEND For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 29, 1996 Valley Edition Calendar Part F Page 18 Zones Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Artist--A Feb. 15 art review incorrectly identified artist Tige Andrews, whose work is being exhibited at the Cal State Northridge Art Gallery. His woodcuts of codes used by hobos during the Great Depression are on display through March 9.

With his furniture--at least the examples in this gallery--Wilhite tinkers with logic, expectations and traditions. Functionality is not always the primary concern: Consider the sloping seats of his "Slide Chairs," the extra-miniature children's chairs that are too small to be of much use except in the doll domain.

Physical comfort is the least of his concerns with the "Geometric Armchair," which has an incomplete slab of a seat and geometric shapes draped around the frame. Wilhite also dislodges our desire for symmetry and balance with a table, the legs of which are of varying lengths and perched precariously on various sized balls--a trompe l'oeil effect.

In strictly sculptural terrain, Wilhite fashions tiny tableaux with deposits of wry humor and a miniaturist's fetishism. It is with these palm-sized assemblages that Wilhite reaches out most blatantly to the outside world of architectural- and pop-cultural archetypes.

"Yellow House With Black Smoke and Green Thumb" shows a house with a twisting stick passing for smoke. The beautiful hardwood pieces making up "Silver Dollar" suggest a saloon in the Southwest. "Modernist Apartment With Green Hedge" consists of an assortment of cubes and planes oddly stacked and offset by a wavy piece of wood implying a hedge--token landscaping.

Here, Wilhite uses a minuscule medium to comment on grander architectural realities. He suggests the connection between completed architecture and its humble beginnings. No doubt--Wilhite has a way with wood, a deft and ironic way.

Enlightened Child's Play: "Shared Stories: Exploring Cultural Diversity," also at CSUN, is a collection of illustrations done by artists outside the mainstream of white America for children's books. This is an exhibition, as they say, suitable for the entire family. But there's more than meets the eye.

In most cases, these books are grounded in the stuff of myths, folklore and a celebration of culturally diverse lifestyles--the kind not often addressed through the mass cultural machinery or Hollywood.

Chicana artist Carmen Lomas Garza has a fetchingly direct pictorial approach to her busy compositions that communicates the blithe hum of domestic life. "Tamalada (Making Tamales)" depicts a happy family project, with a painting of the Last Supper on the wall (religion always in the periphery).

Leovigildo Martinez is a Mexican artist whose work blends childhood wonder with a gentle dose of magic realism.

African American artist James Ransome shows a Norman Rockwell-like eye for sentimental scenes of Americana, from a black perspective, while the African American JoeSam's images are more stylized and abstract.

Native American artist Michael Lacapa's watercolor images from the book "Less Than Half, More than Whole" depict Native American cultural pride as well as a sense of being on the margins of society. Nancy Hom, a Chinese American artist, combines silk-screen images with other media to capture the tapestry-like dimensions of a Hmong folk tale that she has illustrated.

Most important, the art here conveys a kind of anecdotal strength that doesn't require a knowledge of the individual stories of the books. In this case, pictures and the artists' unique style convey the stories.

Codes on the Road: Andrew Tige has worked in various quarters of the art world, in theater and, most recognizably, on the small screen, as TV's Capt. Greer from the newly popular "Mod Squad." But he has also worked in painting and woodcuts, the medium at hand in his current "Hobo Signs" show at CSUN.

This is a concept-driven project, tracing and chronicling codes used by the nomadic culture of hobos during the Great Depression. The idea behind the woodcuts is as intriguing as the works themselves.

To the disenfranchised class of vagabonds--prevalent just after the Civil War and during the Depression--a series of commonly understood images scrawled on walls or fences imparted messages important to survival. The messages include such practical advice and morale builders as "Don't Give Up," "Man With Gun," "You'll Be Beaten," "You May Camp Here," "Nice Lady"--an image of a contented cat--and "Jail"-- an instantly understood mesh of bars.

These elemental images benefit from the medium that Tige has chosen. His woodcuts convey a scruffy, crude energy and forthright visual appeal that match the grass-roots spirit of the subject.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Robert Wilhite's "Furniture, Sculpture, Sticks," "Hobo Signs" by Andrew Tige, and "Shared Stories: Exploring Cultural Diversity."

* WHERE: Cal State Northridge Art Gallery, 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge.

* WHEN: Through March 9.

* CALL: (818) 885-2226.

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