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Distorting Reality for Very Different Genres

Just as Santa Paula can be transformed for a movie, simple snapshots of life can be altered naturally into abstract images.


Santa Paula was not itself, again. It's not unusual to find Hollywood camping out in this picturesque town, a location scout's perennial favorite, within easy driving distance of Tinseltown. But the latest incursion was on a grand, redefining scale. Main Street was taken over, transformed into the main drag of Mayfield, home of the Beave in the film version of "Leave It to Beaver."

Heading into town last week, you knew you weren't in Santa Paula anymore. Actual Santa Paula policemen stood sentry to keep cars and crowds away from the set, while those acting as Mayfield policemen mingled, waiting for the director's orders. A giant crane was ready to begin shooting the opening shot. A hardware store had been changed into the chic Grande Caffe coffeehouse, replete with a huge hand and cup attached to the roof, a splash of vernacular architectural wit.

Wading through the elaborate artifice to the John Nichols Gallery, which was doubling as the Mayfield Public Library last week, one found altered reality of a different sort. Nichols' small show of large black and white photographs currently on view are strange and introspective by nature and on a much humbler budgetary scale than the Hollywood machinery outside.

Nichols, a photographer/curator whose works can also be seen at the current "Assembly of the Arts" show at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, is intrigued by the mystifying visual properties generated by using the cheap plastic camera known as the "Diana" camera. Making large prints of images designed for snapshots is almost a contradiction in terms, and part of the quirky charm here.

The camera's optical qualities are hardly pristine, instead offering unique distortions that alter reality, in a crude but consistent way. Surfaces get smudged, and bright light sections glisten against murky dark areas, while the perimeters of the frame tend to get blurred. But it's important to note that the distortions here are natural, the byproduct of humble technology, rather than of darkroom stunt work.

An image of rippling water or a swan slicing through a glassy lake take on a new, semi-abstract life. A shot of kids crammed into a convertible is something out of a culture-blending dream, where '50s style meets the '90s. You could imagine Eddie Haskell fitting in.

Of course, we all know that Eddie Haskell was just an illusion, however real that beanpole wisenheimer seems in our collective memory. We all know that the Diana camera mystique is just a chemically bent version of the reality we understand. Or is it? In Santa Paula these days, reality is in question.

* John Nichols, "Large Black and White," photographs, through July at the John Nichols Gallery, 901 E. Main St. in Santa Paula; 525-7804.

Dream Brigadier: Dakotah F-B's paintings, now in the administration building of the Government Center, are anything but wallflowers. Vigor overflows. Her oil and mixed media images, some quite large and looming, tend to be pumped up with bright colors and big expressive brushwork. These are big-hearted, bold-stroked pieces, but are generally light in spirit, more a celebration of naive charm than any kind of abstract expressionist Angst-fest.

A sense of joy is palpable, but also pain and confusion, as with the scratched, bruised surfaces of "But What of the Broken Heart." "Dream Brigade" is, suitably, charged with dream logic in its composition, where hazy imagery bumps against visitations from the real world. "4110 Fini" is a big, unstretched canvas in which memories of childhood are filtered through melancholy and latter-day wisdom.

"Dream Catcher" is a patchwork quilt of abstract gestures and ghostly hints of concrete objects--a car, a gable roof--which appear as emblems of security swirling amid the uncertainty. Somewhere in the balance, between the gregarious surfaces and the underlying wistfulness, lies the essence of Dakotah F-B's intriguing art.

* Dakotah F-B, through July 31 in the administration building of the Ventura County Government Building, 800 S. Victoria Ave. in Ventura; 654-3963.

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