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Danger Hangs Over Artist's Hapless Homes

The houses depicted by Maina Moevs are on the brink of disaster. Brand's roomy space is a nice complement to the canvases.


Marina Moevs' paintings, in the capacious, light-filled gallery of the Brand Library, are chilling and beautiful, yet tinged with dread. Her subjects are usually structures in peril, homes threatened, metaphorically and in fact, by destructive forces.

Foggy and muted, her paintings are tinted with irony and gloomy punch lines. Yet the stylized approach of her painting series is so consistent and steady, almost elegant, that the element of danger is apparent only on close inspection.

In "The House and the Flood," a close-up view reveals that only 1 1/2 stories out of two are clear of the water that has disrupted life as usual. An idyllic country home appears to be tilting slightly in "The Earthquaked House," as if falling into an unseen, gaping fissure in the yard. Other homes in the series are partially burnt or are being engulfed by an unsympathetic ocean.

Amid these assorted calamities, even presumably solid houses take on an aura of impending disaster. "House on the Lake," we somehow expect, will soon be in the lake. The artist also ventures an in-joke by depicting a perfectly sedate suburban cul-de-sac--with swaying palm trees and a feline that may be a predator big cat--and calling the painting "The Dead End."

Moevs' underlying agenda seems to be to challenge dearly held beliefs about the security and sanctuary of home. These houses are flimsy and vulnerable to the powerful elements around them. In the case of suburban America, the destructive forces may be ennui or complacency.

Moevs also accents aspects of uncertainty in her works by portraying scenes colored by mystery--a fork in the road, a faint glimpse of a tunnel in the woods, or a road that fades to an abyss-like blackness in the trees.

All of these tactics might seem contrived were it not for the conceptual assuredness and visual continuity of the series, especially as situated in this generous gallery. Moevs deliberately limits her palette to a murky set of greens and blues, awash in gray. Each painting is 64 inches high, placed low on the gallery walls. The horizon lines in the images sit at eye level, enhancing viewers' spatial empathy with the scenes.

Each painting is also bisected by a dark line, as if we're peering through a vertical window. In some paintings, the bisecting line becomes wavy and rough, suggesting the disruption of an earthquake or some cosmic ripple effect.

All told, the series has hypnotic allure, an undercoating of dour humor and ingenuity of design. These paintings seduce the eye even as they plant unpleasant ideas in the subconscious.

Also at the Brand, Naomi Ozaki's vibrant abstractions spin off in a direction sharply different from Moevs'. Ozaki works in sumi (ink painting) and gouache, creating colorful expressions that combine Japanese sense of space and line with the visual panache of abstract expressionism at its friendliest.

While Ozaki's work tends to look flamboyant, it also manages to evoke complex emotional states. Conflicting feelings hang in the balance of gestures, splatters and lines. "Big Reaction" is an explosion of energy, with bold, wide brush strokes flecked with a few unruly splatters of paint. "Time Fossil" and "Comfort," too, convey an exploratory spirit rather than visual flourish for its own sake.

* Marina Moevs and Naomi Ozaki, through June 25 at Brand Library, 1601 W. Mountain St. in Glendale; (818) 548-2051.

Write a Chapter Hed: Visitors to the Artspace Gallery in Woodland Hills, a little oasis of art next to the Marriott Hotel, are in for a surprise. There's no longer a there there. But the good news: The gallery has been moved upstairs one floor, to a suite of offices that have been transformed into a slightly bizarre but fully workable gallery space. Each office now plays the role of a small gallery within the larger gallery space. Welcome to the new, modular Artspace.

"7 Artists--7 Views," the first exhibition in the new space, benefits from the modularity due to the diversity of the works. Diversity is the only apparent link among Paula Aaron Hurwitz's European travel scenes, Rebecca Brand's lavendar-loving landscape expanses and the neatly observed pleasantries of Darlene Libby and Carol Suter.

With Kim Hejna's gently abstracted landscape paintings, on subjects found in Hawaii, the edges are rough, making for an appealing unfinished quality. Diana Stewart shows fondly rendered portraits of children at play, with some dark hints of fractured family life.

D. K. Denniston's best paintings are delightful oddities. The two images under the "State of Grace" heading show R & B stars, spangly and heroic, bedecked with gold leaf halos. Deified, the Supremes look mighty good, and it lends a heavenly air to this Woodland Hills office-cum-gallery.

* "7 Artists--7 Views," through June 29 at Artspace Gallery, 21800 Oxnard St. in Woodland Hills; (818) 716-2786.

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