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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Artist Targets a Special Audience

After the shock wears off, viewers of Tom Nordstrom's work can appreciate that no two bullet holes are alike.

November 21, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Under normal circumstances, art riddled with bullet holes might seem suspect, at best. But there they are, plain as day, in Tom Nordstrom's engaging work, now at gallery one one one: actual bullets creating Swiss-cheesy constellations of perforations on metal.

It's a funny, unsettling sight on first impression. After the shock value and visceral impact wear off, though, one can appreciate the rough beauty and tactile appeal inherent here. Subtleties can be admired, such as the fact that no two bullet holes are alike, and the serrated edges take on a variety of forms, like petals on flowers.

Nordstrom likes to find his essential material--his putty, his canvas--at a shooting range, where hunks of debris have been subjected to punishing gunfire. Colorfully rendered figures and faces are juxtaposed against the seemingly contradictory reality of what we're seeing, this art fashioned from violated metal.

Outside the gallery, we're greeted by a piece called "Prop," a mannequin whose brightly colored skirt is made of bullet-riddled metal, a suitable indication of what's inside the gallery. In "Field Trip," an ammo-punctured car door with a face and a bull's-eye painted over it conjures up memories of the climax to the film "Bonnie and Clyde." "The Writer," made from a brutalized old stove top, all jagged edges and punctured integrity, might serve as a metaphor for creative angst.

However the artist alters his materials, and however abstractly the materials are considered, there's no getting around the aura of violence built into the art. Nordstrom's art can be viewed in terms of the culture of violence, as both an indictment and a coy exploitation.

At times, the work comments on the prevalence of sexual violence and misogyny. With "Nude on Ironing Board" or "When She Kisses Me," the link between the female body and bullet holes sets up an uncomfortable real-life connection, referring to the objectification of women, and the common threat of sex- and domestic-related violence in America.

But elsewhere, an unexpected air of tenderness prevails, as with "The Bouquet," in which a flowery sundress is draped on tattered metal painted with a festive floral pattern. It short-circuits one's conventional definition of beauty. More recently, Nordstrom has taken to incorporating such found objects as bowling pins and mannequin parts into his work, still with the ever-present evidence of physical abuse, but also with a newfound levity, a Jasper Johns-ish junk-monger's wit, minus the pulpy, Sam Peckinpah touches.

Needless to say, Nordstrom's relief sculptures are anything but slick. While working up entertaining visuals, he also questions the nature of artistic beauty and traditional materials. Even by the standards of the helter-skelter world of found objects, his materials are off the scale. In the end, he keeps a cautious sense of balance in check, exerting droll, dark humor as a leavening agent against the grittier aspects of the work.

Gallery one one one, which opened its doors only this year, continues to be an inspiring exception to the idea that a serious contemporary art gallery has no place in Ventura. Although it's off the beaten path of the downtown area, the gallery space is well worth the effort of seeking out, championing, as it does, mostly young artists from the area and beyond. Long may it hang.

* Tom Nordstrom, "Bullet-Hole Series," through Wednesday at gallery one one one, 111 S. Dos Caminos Ave. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 641-0111.

*

Board approved: The current show at the Buenaventura Gallery is an inside job, literally, and that's not a bad thing. New pieces by members of the Buenaventura Art Assn. make up a diverse exhibition.

Ventura art watchers have seen most of these artists' work, often at this gallery. There are local scenes lovingly depicted, including Norman Kirk's "Life Along the Rincon" and Teri Wuerth's "Ventura Pier and Surfer." Carlisle Cooper shows a few of his signature pieces, with their frazzled, iridescent surface treatment, and Mona Neuhaus' gentle color distortions add character to her landscapes. Lee Hodges lends her multimedia flair to an image of undersea life, and Paula Odor's "Rosie Red Iron Bark" is an empathetic close-up of leafage.

One of the most intriguing pieces on display is Shirley Ransom's painting "The Tea Party." A busy, bustling composition, it depicts behatted women with pleasant faces and comportment, and garish dresses that fade into the floral wallpaper. This layer of social propriety starkly contrasts an almost austere-looking maid in the background, so plain and inconspicuous as to stand apart from the surreal setting. Strangely enough, this servant is the painting's most compelling figure, in what seems to be a study of hierarchical folly.

Or is it just a pretty picture?

* "Board of Directors Special Show," through Dec. 7 at Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; 648-1235.

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