YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Paintings of an Exotic Culture Miss Their Mark

Works by traveling artist Leslie Clark reflect her interest in non-western influences. But her images lack depth as personalities.


Artist and gallery owner Leslie Clark may be a fourth-generation Ojai resident, but she's also certifiably nomadic, hence the name of her newly opened gallery, Nomad, the Leslie Clark Gallery. Clark has spent time visiting and portraying life in locales far from the western-urban scene, places such as Chiapas, the Sahara and the Kalahari deserts.

Inspired by the seeming exoticism and mystical cultures of these peoples, Clark set out to create a body of images celebrating another way of living, and has opened her own gallery to share her findings.

A sense of amateur anthropology and entrepreneurial zeal hang in the air of the gallery, which is filled with African artifacts, drums, tapestries drooping from the ceilings, and, of course, the art of the gallery's namesake on the walls.

In one room, Clark also shows color photographs from her travels as well as Polaroid transfers. Even the floors have been painted with the mottled, muted patterning reminiscent of the backgrounds in her paintings. Through the overall gallery experience, we get a thorough picture of Clark's exuberance about the tribal cultures that fascinate her.

Everything about the gallery emphasizes traditional African culture, except, oddly, the paintings themselves, which depict figures from native cultures amid painterly debris of dubious relevancy. Clark has explained that she has gone into the "field" to do quick watercolor sketches and drawings of her subjects, then has brought the rough sketches back to her studio for later elaborations of her own devising.

The end result is anything but seamless. These images run up against the danger of condescending to the very worlds she seeks to portray. The people here appear less as individual personalities than as types.

Western artists in the 20th century have often been intrigued by non-western influences, searching for poetic ways to bridge disparate worlds, as in Picasso's African tendencies and the Asian elements in Impressionism.

Clark's responses to this timeless, idealistic artistic impulse, so far, send out confused, mixed messages.

* Leslie Clarke at Nomad, the Leslie Clark Gallery, 307 E. Ojai Ave. #103, in Ojai. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; 646-1706.


Slices of Cuban Life: Photographer Jennifer Selby, whose images from her travels to Cuba are now hanging at The Oaks at Ojai, isn't faced with the same challenge as Clark, mainly because Selby's ambitions are more straightforward. In her images, both in color and black and white, Selby demonstrates a photojournalistic directness as well as an eye for human interest, and a certain flair for anecdotal pictorial effect.

At root, the story in Selby's work has to do with the resiliency and innocence represented by children amid the urban decay in Cuba. Sometimes, this subtext is relayed through simple contrasts within a composition. In "Laughing Feet" and "Street Show," young girls in brightly colored garb can't suppress the will to dance.

Selby's black-and-white work is often effective in a more stark, formal way. "Follow the Leader" captures an image of girls at play in an alleyway, with a trash truck in the background, wallowing in symbolism.

There's another untold, but suggested story in the subtly powerful, crisply composed "Scraped Knuckles." Here, a boy projects a premature street wisdom as he leans against a wall, one arm akimbo and casting a skeptic's glare. Meanwhile, as the title tells us, his bruised knuckles hint at a scuffle in his recent past.

In the best of her images, Selby manages to capture a palpable sense of place and that rare quality of empathetic portraiture.

* Jennifer Selby, through Aug. 15 at the Gallery of The Oaks at Ojai, 122 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai. Gallery hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; 646-5573, Ext. 131.

Los Angeles Times Articles