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Poetry in Motion

Artist presents multiple variations on a bird theme, using verse in the titles.


A kind of hush hovers in the Ventura College Gallery 2 this month. A series of 28 works on handmade paper by marvin harden demands the kind of close, introspective scrutiny that is at odds with the hurly-burly of much contemporary culture. And that's the point.

We quickly get an indication of the artist's dual life as a poet through harden's preference for a name in all lower-case letters, a la e.e. cummings. Aptly, a kind of poetic logic holds his show together.

With this series, the artist is pursuing the fine, slow art of seeing, and demands that visitors to the gallery do the same. Each piece, lavishly framed, is a variation on an image of a bird, enveloped in a seemingly infinite variety of visual treatments, and with a poem in the title.

An anxious viewer may see only multiple variations on a seemingly minor theme, but there is a cohesive totality, and a meditative allure here. Taking in the show one piece at a time, with the requisite patient eye, we gain insights about the power of sequential observation.

In the end, harden's show makes a quietly compelling statement about variation and continuity in the artistic process. These pieces are spun off of a central core of an idea, and the loop could easily continue. The artist could produce more images, similar yet distinguished by fine differences.

In modern culture's mad rush toward originality--or at least an appearance thereof--that point is too often lost.

Lost in the Landscape: Over in the college's New Media Gallery, artist Libby Smith, who teaches at Santa Barbara City College, shows work that also revels in the virtues of creating a series, though in a wholly different way. For Smith, the goal is to capture the eternal mystery of nature in the veritable backyard.

Smith has created a series of simple yet commanding charcoal drawings, all from the vantage point of Goleta's humble Lake Los Carneros. The small lake, adjacent to the historic Stow House, is a stone's throw from suburbia and the 101 Freeway, and yet is a sturdy link to the wilderness.

Beautiful in a stark way, Smith's works conjure a sense of specific place, documented in images of ducks, reeds and impressions of water. Beyond those details, though, the drawings depart from traditional landscape art and make a more general connection with the enigmatic qualities of nature.

Through judicious cropping of her compositions and visual editing, Smith reveals and preserves the mysteries of nature. As with harden's work, Smith's art takes refuge in the poetic.


Four Women: At Gallery One One One, the current show starkly contrasts with the sheer, dizzying density of last month's erotic art exhibit. One can breathe. One can also appreciate the curatorial idea behind "Four Women," in honor of Women's History Month.

The artists chosen for this show are, by design, vastly different in form and content. But their work is presented in an interwoven way, rather than sending each artist to her respective corner.

Jhina Alvarado's penchant is mixed-media, including mixtures of image and text. Sometimes there are gender- and romance-based commentaries in her work, as with "The Way You See Me," with its list of personal attributes spelled out in a piece whose materials list includes wax and coffee.

Marie Bain, whose photo collage of canines in the act is a holdover from the erotic art show, also shows other collage pieces in which animals are never far from her artistic eye. They provide a kind of built-in critter charm.

At yet another point in the aesthetic spectrum, Deb Lacusta creates quasi-figurative paintings that often feature mutant, cartoony aliens. The most abstract work comes from Wanda Waldera, whose multiple-panel pieces play off of the vibrant juxtaposition of biomorphic blobs and loosely drawn patterns.

All told, the four women artists represent a healthy diversity of visions in a contemporary context. Their aesthetics may or may not have anything to do with their being women, but they have everything to do with focusing on the process of personal investigation.


Exhibits by marvin harden and Libby Smith, through Friday at Ventura College, 4667 Telegraph Road, Ventura. Call for gallery hours. (805) 648-8974.

"Four Women," through April 3 at Gallery One One One, 111 Dos Caminos Ave., Ventura. Gallery hours: Tue.-Sat., noon-5:30 p.m.; 641-0111.

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