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Hard-to-Find Amateur Art Offers Refreshment at Fair

Tucked away from the professional gallery, these works express a range of raw, local talent.


You have to work to find it, but it's there, just like every year, lurking in the crannies. This year, you turn right at the change-grabbing monkey and walk away from the BBQ ribs. Enter a far building and proceed past the jams and pickles, past the Spam booth and toward the far corner. There it is, a smaller representation than in previous years but undeniably present and accounted for: capital A Art.

People go to the Ventura County Fair for many reasons, and it's probably safe to say that few of them actually have art appreciation on the top of their lists. But it's a valid category: You've got your horticulture and floriculture exhibits; let us now praise that other brand of culture.

Part of the charm of seeking out art at the fair has to do with the search as much as the destination. It's an experiential thing: qualitative and critical judgments aside, where else--and when else--will you find a bounty of art in such close proximity to racing pigs, shaved ice, nausea-inducing fairway rides and Gladys Knight, Pipless, but live on stage?

In fact, within the microcosm that is the county fair, there are three exhibits in what could be called the art quad. The building that once was given over to fine art this year is filled with the popular medium of photography.

Hierarchy is alive and well with the "Amateur Fine Art" show, which is in another building and tucked away unceremoniously in a corner, tenement-style. Across the way, the "Professional Art" exhibit enjoys its own, more gallery-like space, an uptown address.

But, not surprisingly, some of the more refreshing artworks are to be found in the amateur arena. The fair's art competition opens its portals to citizens who are not necessarily eyeing professional art relationships, which can sometimes offer a window on artists with rawer, less calculating maneuvers.


Take, for example, Beckie Brackett's disarming painting of glamour-puss faces--vaguely resembling the likes of Jayne Mansfield, Elvis Presley and others of their ilk--floating on a background that looks like wood-grained paneling.

In Christine Marla's watercolor painting of a crying boy, a sense of emotional distress is made palpable. Roland Carrier waxes humorous in his painting of nuns in a heated game of baseball. He wins points for sheer silliness.

Sophie Acosta's respectful portraits of farm workers in the field is entirely appropriate in the context of the fair in an agricultural region. Among the traditional landscape works, Grecan Argers' painting of spindly eucalyptus trees comports itself with spare elegance.

Little things can carry expressive weight in these shows. An image of a red bike, affectionately and nostalgically detailed, its wheels casting elliptical shadows, is at the generous heart of Bonnie Lee Sessions' painting.


Across the way, the "professional" show features a group of artists mostly familiar in the local art scene. Kazuko Knowles shows one of her vividly detailed macro close-ups of plant life, specifically, point-blank views of blossoms. You can almost smell this red rose.

A century plant is Carol Simson's subject, but her artistic interest is mainly trained on the sawtooth-edged shadow it casts on a wall.

In Nicholas Deitch's "Ventura Ave.," local color is the goal, as a twilight sky moodily blankets a street crisscrossed with power lines.

A similar effect comes through Faith Fellman's "Old Market," warmly depicting an old Los Angeles corner market with a happy customer standing in front, oddly placed in a composition that benefits from its Thomas Hart Benton-like swollen-jointed realism.

Entering the gallery, visitors are greeted by Tom Fritz's "How Yo Doin' Son," a Norman Rockwellian scene in a farm town, depicting a city feller outta' gas pleading with a tractor-bound farmer. How's that for a definitive county fair painting--an urbanite paying a visit to country folk and seeing how the other half lives.

Lovers of bovine portraiture will be disappointed to learn that cows make no presence at the fair this year. But, otherwise, there are enough highlights in the amateur show to warrant a look-see, a respite from noisier and smellier forms of culture on the grounds.

* Ventura County Fair, Seaside Park in Ventura, through Sunday.

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