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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Painter Quietly Slips a Mickey Into His Paintings

Among George Tapley's works, the mouse can be found in shadows and backgrounds.

July 25, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After all these years, Mickey Mouse remains victorious, basking in his status as America's most beloved rodent. Naturally, along with that exalted position comes vulnerability: Mickey is also a sitting target for satirists seeking to unsettle stereotypes and push emotional buttons.

As an icon of innocence and virtue, Mickey Mouse is a cute sacred cow, just begging to be slandered. Underground comic book artists have had a field day in unraveling Disney-esque innocence, putting characters such as Mickey and his pals in compromising positions, having them engage in illicit activities and otherwise flexing the muscle of parody.

George Tapley, whose "Mickey Paintings" show is currently hanging at the Orlando Gallery, has no use for outright irreverence. Instead, he is a mild-mannered subversive, who uses the familiar visage of Mr. Mouse not so much in an effort to undermine his legacy as to playfully explore it.

In some cases, Tapley mixes his cultural references, interlacing American fine art legends with Disneyland-scapes. Mickey's face is cleverly woven into the landscape in "Grant Wood's Mickey." "Hopper's Mickey" suggests the art of Edward Hopper mainly in the key use of stark shadows, draped across a rock formation that is undeniably Mickey-esque.

Shadow play relates to other images in the show, as well. A quirky still life painting of fruit on a plate casts a shadow on the wall in the shape of Mickey's profile. There he is again, tucked matter-of-factly into the background of a crowd scene at Disneyland.

By Tapley's configuring, Mickey is everywhere, embedded in our collective unconscious and even in the shadowy periphery of our vision.

Significantly, the most straightforward portraits in Tapley's collection are of Mickey Mouse stuffed animals, propped up but clearly lifeless. Elsewhere, Mickey takes on an ominous, omniscient presence. A sinister grin flashes across the face of the Mickey peering over a giant jug, and he looks imperious as the icon embedded in a structure called a "Mouse-oleum."

And yet, for all the subtle irony of Tapley's Mickey paintings, rendered in a rough, humble style, there is no real harm done. Mickey emerges from these whimsical images with his dignity and perceived heroism intact.

Sharing the Orlando Gallery this month, but from an entirely different aesthetic perspective, is Brian Mark. His "Mar Vista Paintings" series consist of highly stylized female nude studies in ink and watercolor, as provocative as the Mickey Mouse works are ironic.

Skin tones tend to be flamboyant and a bit psychedelic, and the figures are surrounded by busy, design-conscious swirls of visual activity, as in "Roja, Good Life Coming." "Alexandria on the Nile Delta" finds a crouching nude, peering through cattails across a river, where a city skyline suggests an urban reality far from the unfettered pleasure on this riverbank.

Artistic naturalism is not particularly an issue here: The au naturel aspect is. In these images, Mark seems to be aiming at a personal brand of exotica-erotica, more glib than artful.

* George Tapley's "Mickey Paintings" and Brian Mark's "Mar Vista Paintings" through July 30 at the Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. (818) 789-6012.

*

Illusion and Reality: Over at Artspace in Woodland Hills, sculptor and painter Leonard E. Bermudez crosses back and forth over the line separating illusion and reality. The exhibition's title is "Metallic Reflections," and the work ranges from twisting, writhing chrome sculptures--shiny and slithery things--to paintings of similar sculptures.

From yet another angle, Bermudez concocts more purely abstract paintings, which depict ambiguous visual stimuli, as in his aptly entitled "Smoke Series" and "Illusions of Solidity." His sculptures sometimes depict the dripping, elusive nature of melting metal, as in "Summer Ice."

With these various artistic schemes, Bermudez dances around illusion, never settling down into a given, committed mode of expression. The show at Artspace represents a search more than a solution.

* Leonard E. Bermudez's "Metallic Reflections," through Saturday at Artspace Gallery, 21800 Oxnard St. in Woodland Hills. Gallery hours: noon-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m., Saturday. (818) 716-2786.

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