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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Festive, Playful, Slightly Loony Art by Bisconti

"Works From Whiskey Hill" fill the inviting new Seven Sanctuaries art space in Sherman Oaks.

September 05, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Following the romantic definition, art spaces are supposed to be detached cultural enclaves rather than high-profile commercial outlets, closer in spirit to sanctuaries than the marketplace. Buying art is important to cultural survival, of course, but basking in it, more so.

In the San Fernando Valley, few venues aspire to that notion more than Seven Sanctuaries, a new addition to the local art scene. Nestled in a courtyard behind the Rive Gauche restaurant, the gallery is in a little world of its own, inviting the visitor to forget the external reality of life on Ventura Boulevard.

The current exhibit in this pleasant space is "Bisconti: Works From Whiskey Hill," a multimedia show that is festive and playful, and tinged with things cosmic. Brightly colored, slightly loony figurative metal sculptures occupy the floor spaces and paintings of a decorative yet somewhat metaphysical nature enliven the walls.

Patrick Bisconti, who works in his studio on Whiskey Hill Road in Santa Cruz, has left his mark in places other than the fine art world. His paintings, seen on display at the historic Monterey Pop Festival in the late '60s, have been used by musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Mose Allison and John Lee Hooker. A sculpture of Judge Watson festoons the Watsonville City Hall.

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It's easy to grasp the appeal of his work, as represented by these amiable pieces in two and three dimensions. It's also understandable that the art's palatability is suitable for album covers and public art. No real intellectual challenge greets the viewer, but it's all perfectly enjoyable, done by someone who obviously loves his work.

His paintings tend to be formal confections, with interlocking shapes and vague intergalactic references. "Collapsing Star in an Expanding Universe" is a collision of forms and spunky colors. "Bay of Jupiter" is a postcard from another planet in which fish, a tree, a bay and stars are giddily pushed into abstraction.

More distinctive in Bisconti's collection are his wiry metal concoctions that spill out onto the courtyard. Meet "Twins Debby and Bob," their triangular busts protruding cheerfully from a central base, like a bizarre variation on the Doublemint commercial using Siamese twins. From the "Linear Family Portraits" series, we find "Chris," his peculiar face fashioned from steel rod and made garish with yellow. Humor is not lost on the artist.

The reference to Alexander Calder in "Calder's Friends" is a bit obtuse, considering that the piece is a garden of whimsical faces propped up on stalks. The charm wears thin when Bisconti explores more purely formal abstraction, as in "Reclining Freeform," venturing away from figurative reference to anchor the aesthetic.

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Somewhere among his sculptures and paintings are painted steel cutouts that stand likes artifacts from non-Western cultures. In these, female figures take on mythical qualities--such as "Sad Blue," which depicts a woman with lean, somehow forlorn Modigliani contours.

As scattered as Bisconti's show may sound on paper, there is a unifying character that enables him to get away with his rampant medium-hopping tendencies. As seen in this show, his is a confidently rendered art that nods to the earthy flair of folk art and has its head in the stars, simultaneously. It's a blithe affair.

* "Bisconti: Works From Whiskey Hill," at Seven Sanctuaries, 14106 Ventura Blvd., No. 105, Sherman Oaks. Runs noon-6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, through Sept. 21. Call (818) 990-7049.

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