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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Teacher Encourages a Variety of Works

For exhibit at Lankershim Arts Center, students of Renee Amitai paint as individuals.

August 22, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Group shows are usually studies in contrast, and sometimes, exercises in patience, with viewers straining to find connections. Thankfully, things mostly fall together in the exhibition now at the Lankershim Arts Center titled "Oil Paintings by Emerging Artists from the R. Amitai Studio."

Renee Amitai is a Valley-based artist and teacher, and, judging from the disparate results on display, her intention is to support the development of individual traits rather than to guide students into a given school of artistic thought.

Darlene Libby and Kim Hejna both create mysterious, dark-paletted landscapes, which are affectingly moody and open to metaphorical interpretation. Hejna paints a different Hawaii from the one in the tourist pamphlets, one of rugged natural wonders and poetic secrets.

"Kauai Sunset" and "Rocks" are unsentimental views, respectful of the power of nature even as they serve as introspective studies. Libby brings a similar quiet intensity to her works. "The Road Less Traveled," with its remote farmhouse under a brooding sky dominating the composition, conveys a poetic sense of both anticipation and resignation.

Step over a few feet in the gallery and Diana Stewart brings the viewer into another state of mind altogether, with her often funny, soap operatic variations on the themes of romantic fracture and betrayal. "Coming Apart" is made of nine square swatches of canvas portraying a distraught, presumably heartbroken, woman's face, affixed to a dark blue background and splattered with incidental red paint, i.e. blood.

A taste for revenge finds release in "Your Cheatin' Heart," in which the unfaithful man in question, noose around the neck and facing a pistol, sports a gaping, peeling hole in the canvas where his chest used to be.

However consciously, this looks to be the feverish, crudely wrought work of an artist too upset or unsettled to pay much attention to details or order. Or it could be, after all, a clever, melodramatic gesture. We're caught between a snicker and a flinch.

Moving around the gallery, the focus shifts again, as D.K. Denniston displays odd, appealing portraits of citizens at a bus stop, each adorned with a gold leaf halo. The effect of this potentially overwrought concept is a bit startling and inspiring, as we appreciate the nobility and sacredness of the Everyperson, and the banality of redemption.

* "Oil Paintings by Emerging Artists from R. Amitai Studio," through Aug. 31 at the Lankershim Art Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. Gallery hours: Thursday and Friday, 1-4 p.m., Saturday from 2:30-6 p.m.; (818) 752-2682.

*

Lost at Sea and Sand: A group show of another stripe hangs at the Orlando Gallery. Women Painters West, an organization celebrating its 75th anniversary, has assembled an exhibition under the altogether innocuous title "Desert and Sea." Expect no hidden agendas here: The art, overall, is as harmless and abidingly pleasant as the title. No harm done. No pain. Little gain.

This is well and good--light art shows, after all, are an accepted part of life in these culturally challenged dog days of late summer. But after poring over these works, you begin to get antsy, longing for something with an attitude, with fangs, or at least teeth.

Which is not to say that there's nothing to look at here. It's a breezy show, but also one with redeeming virtues and notable high points. Jane Friend flexes creative license and takes a transforming view of tide pool activity in "Laguna Tide Pool." Her image of sea life on the fringes becomes both a microcosm and a purely artistic point of departure, in a form vaguely reminiscent of a mandala.

A gentle brand of abstraction is also at play in Virginia Jackman's "Desert Dawn," built up from pulpy handmade paper to suggest a geometrically aligned horizon and a layer of foamy imagery creeping along the base like a dreamy fog bank. June Schnitzer's "Beached" is a relief piece in which the artist attempts to illustrate the effects of desert heat by piling on layers of bulging, tactile paint, sprinkled with sand and seashells.

In Elizabeth Tokar's "Desert Passages," Native American icons and pictograph-like images are set against a desert sunset.

Betty Beam's "Colored Cactus" portrays its thorny subject via collage layers and a joyously exaggerated color scheme. A gaudy rainbow of hues gives this normally arid plant the quality of a mirage and/or a hallucination. Chalk it up, perhaps, to the effects of a long, hot summer.

* Women Painters of the West, "Desert & Sea," through Aug. 30 at the Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; (818) 789-6012.

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