In the Ventura County art scene, as elsewhere, group shows come with the territory. Through various competitions and round-up shows around the area, the format offers a sensibly democratic, "more is more" opportunity for artists and organizations to show their wares. To boot, it gives the public at least a cursory exposure to the artists in their midst.
But rare is the group show with a cause, one based on a central theme rather than membership in a group or juried selection. That rarity makes "Masks," now at the G. Childress Gallery in Ojai, a special occasion.
The theme is fairly simple, but fruitful: to explore the range of meanings and physical possibilities connected with the timeless practice of mask-making.
Simple as it sounds, it's a concept that works, giving enough of a common theme for the artists--mostly Ojai-based--to spin off on, while allowing for a wide berth of creative variations.
In all, the show offers a modern perspective in celebrating masks, as artistic and expressive products themselves, as personality modifiers and emblems of social archetypes. There was a timely hook as well, the show having run during Halloween.
Gretchen Greenberg, the show's organizer, has been intrigued by masks in her recent work, and her pieces are among the strongest and the most elemental in the gallery. Her work entails a resourceful, inventive use of palm tree cast-offs, transformed into colorful and sometimes coy-looking faces. The organic materials reflect an organic artistic process.
Found materials of various types crop up in the show, as with Carmen Abeiera-White's striking and giddy works. Fueled by a recycling aesthetic, her series of relief sculptures use wood backing, Scrabble pieces to spell out names, and coffee cans and other metal objects reworked into charmingly eccentric mock-faces.
The work evinces a bit of post-Dadaist absurdity as well as more pop cultural fizz: One piece looks like the backwoods cousin of Rosie the Robot, the Jetsons' motorized maid.
Linda Taylor shows a series of paper-cast masks, as well as "Gluttony," made mostly from denim. Bill Kaderly, known around town for his ability to evoke images with minimal resources, shows cleverly crafted masks fashioned from citrus peels.
Meanwhile, John Farnham's masks of steel take a different tack, veering toward lean, abstract forms, vaguely alluding to a presence of heroic faces. In the case of Susan Amend's impressive "Variations on a Cora de Pero (Dog Face)," the challenge lies in dealing with a similar image--that of a dog face--utilizing a variety of materials, from papier-mache, glass and even horsetail stalks.
Richard Amend's ceramic pieces set masks against two-dimensional backgrounds, while David Van Gilder shows ceramic elephants. Sharon and Kent Butler represent re-creations of tribal masks, and Dennis Shives shows his deftly rendered, hand-carved wooden masks.
Childress' own "All My Children" portrays familial, or universal, connectivity with its constellation of small ceramic masks linked to a nucleus.
While an aura of levity generally hovers in the gallery, Ronda Linette LaRue's elaborate pieces of stoneware and porcelain openly broach the subject of gender politics. Her pieces question the assorted masks, guises and postures that people assume, under social pressure.
LaRue's target is broad, from the breast-implanted feminine archetype to the militant feminist to the male persona, and, finally, to the "Death Mask"-- the truest, most liberated persona of all.
* WHAT: "Masks."
* WHEN: Through Nov. 23; gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.
* WHERE: G. Childress Gallery, 319 E. El Roblar Drive, Ojai.
* CALL: 658-5725.