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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Exhibit's Artistry Not as Simple as It Seems

Hints of Picasso and Matisse are seen in a show that also hints at Jenik Simonian Cook's personal journey.

June 27, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jenik Simonian Cook's art, handsomely displayed at the Orlando Gallery, conveys a deceptive simplicity. A bit of decoding is necessary to appreciate her aesthetic.

With her decorative flair, gentle-spirited way with cubism and color-block cutouts, she expresses bubbly joie de vivre, while cross-referencing art history and non-Western culture.

Cook embraces the overlapping forms and colors that, at first glance, are reminiscent of Picasso, while hints of Matisse's fauvism show up in her uncluttered cutouts. But there is more to this show she calls "Progression of Humanity."

The subtext of the show might be the artist's own progression, from the Middle East to the middle of the San Fernando Valley. The Armenian artist studied in Iran, Scotland and Bakersfield before landing in the area in the late '80s.

Once in the Valley, Cook studied at Everywoman's Village with the late Dr. Alex Vilumsons, the popular artist-teacher who was recently given a retrospective at the Artspace Gallery in Woodland Hills. Vilumsons, no doubt, passed on to Cook his own fixation with things Picasso-esque, and she has herself taught at the Village for several years now.

At the Orlando, Cook's diverse showing reveals an artist of an idealistic stripe, for whom the figure is never far from the surface--be it abstract or design-oriented. In her drawings, nude forms assume a foggy, sketchy sensuousness, the masses and curves are given a vaporous image.

In a piece such as "Unconscious Memory," anatomy has been fragmented through the cubist dissection process. The large canvas is a study in interlocking forms, playing with the idea of mixing negative and positive space and coyly hinting at faces or body parts. Vis-a-vis the title, the image seems to have materialized through the shifting filter of memory.

Hers is generally a joyful approach to image-making, as seen, aptly enough, in "Joy." Here an impish, ambiguous figure (or figures) is depicted in a gangly jigsaw. The crux of the mystery is whether it is a face lurking behind a mask or lovers entwined? Interpretations are open.

In her more overtly abstract pieces, too, Cook seems to be creating dimensions that relate to the concrete world, but exist on another plane. Echoes of abstract expressionist Arshille Gorky are detectable in the biomorphic imagery of "Living in Light," all merging, bulging forms beneath a murky veneer and scratched over with nervous, squiggly lines. "Ceremonial" finds a shimmery series of images draped on a black backdrop, like bejeweled swatches of fabric lost in space.

In her detailed patterns, depiction of flat space and decorative flair, Cook touches on a Middle Eastern graphic sensibility, but not strictly. At times, African art seems the primary influence, making for a nice complement to the African art and artifacts in the next room of the Orlando Gallery. In bowing to the indigenous culture of Africa, Cook veers again toward the model of Picasso, for whom African art was an integral inspiration.

The comparison game is an easy one to play in art appreciation, and unavoidable at a point in the century when the Modernist revolution has been so thoroughly absorbed. Suffice to say, Cook has a range of references to draw from, through art annals and lived cultural experience. What's important is that she brings to her art an openness and zeal than can be infectious, like the exuberant rantings of an idealist who, once you stop to listen, has something persuasive to say.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Progression of Humanity," by Jenik Simonian Cook.

* WHEN: Through June 28 at the Orlando Gallery.

* WHERE: 14553 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks.

* CALL: (818) 789-6012.

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