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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

2 Artists Share Views of Myth and Nature

Brad Burkhart blends his gregarious approach with the introspection of Nancy Turner-Smith at Burbank gallery.

July 11, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The artworks of Brad Burkhart and Nancy Turner-Smith, on first impression, may seem unsuitable gallery mates. But while their shows at Mythos Gallery in Burbank are of a disparate character, there's more similarity than meets the eye.

Turner-Smith blurs images of nature, transforming the recognizable world into abstract, poetic statements. Where her work leans toward introspection, Burkhart adopts a comparatively gregarious approach in his ceramic relief sculptures, cramming curvaceous human figures into compact spaces.

What the artists share on some level is a sincere belief in the power of myth, memory and nature as metaphors in their art. The artists follow separate paths, but both aspire to ancient things--be they neoclassical or archeological in nature.

Turner-Smith creates essentially abstract images with fossil-like traces of nature tucked in and under the surfaces, creating a personalized statement of faith in timeless, natural forces. Fittingly, the list of materials used in Turner-Smith's work ranges from watercolor to spray paint, sand and compressed bits of vegetation. Ground-up rocks create natural mattes, and the muted veins of leaves take on a skeletal presence.

In her artist's statement, Turner-Smith describes striving for a "subliminal language," derived from the merging of artistic gestures and natural materials. While abstraction often is a way to manifest personal psychological expression, allusions to nature are key, as in "Hear the Trees Crack and Breath" and "Fire Tree." Turner-Smith generates beautiful, enigmatic surfaces that hint at a secret life of plants.

Plant life enters Burkhart's art from the outside-in. The San Diego-based artist, who studied art and landscape architecture, sometimes presents his work amid vegetational decor. On the front window-facing wall of the gallery, several of Burkhart's plaster pieces are nestled in a startlingly large mossy backdrop.

In the gallery's back alcove, drying Eucalyptus branches flank such pieces as "Protection of Animal Presence."

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This peripheral vegetation sets up an in-house duality: the hardened, fixed aspect of the art with decaying organic ornamentation. But it also lends a gently ironic air to the art, which could be viewed as decorative elements in a garden. Few gardens, though, would house serious- and biblical-minded imagery such as "Antediluvian" or "The Three Brothers of the Apocalypse."

In Burkhart's ceramic tableaux, sexual and mythical imagery is corralled into small, busy compositions, literally bulging out from the surface with fleshy forms. Earth-toned glazes give the work the deceptive quality of wood carving, which adds to the sense of the art's anecdotal flair--as if the scenes were etched into petrified wood.

In general, Burkhart shows a real sense of pictorial charm, generating visual intrigue in a concise space. He courts the timeless world of mythology with a sense of humor and an appreciation of fleshy folds, to boot.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Brad Burkhart and Nancy Turner-Smith.

* WHERE: Mythos Gallery, 1009 W. Olive Ave., Burbank.

* WHEN: Noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, through Aug. 10.

* CALL: (818) 843-3686.

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