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From Funk to Formal : Artist fashions starkly elegant works from recycled hardware materials.


In Ventura, you never quite know where the next viable art venue will pop up. Of late, art-watchers have been well-advised to check out the upstairs gallery in Natalie's Fine Threads in downtown Ventura. In the gallery's few months of operation, the work has proven to be challenging and accessible.

The trend continues with an exhibition by Ventura sculptor dm Spaulding, who recently showed his work in Santa Barbara's Karpeles Manuscript Library. Spaulding is one of the many artists presently concerned with the reuse-recycle ethic, also known as "found object" art.

While some artists who use found objects take the opportunity to create loose, funk-filled artworks, Spaulding veers in the opposite direction. He's after a more refined presentation of his commonplace objects.

So, while he constructs his sculptures from lengths of thick rope, hemp, hefty metal springs, bricks and other hardware store and construction site castoffs, there is a stark elegance to his designs. It's about striving for essential simplicity rather than complicating issues.

Rope is the centerpiece in his best work, carrying with it a variety of built-in associations, among them coiled intensity, confinement and security. Often, thick rope is intertwined with vines or metal coils and seems to serve as a middle ground between man-made and natural materials.

Nature is never far from the surface of his work, as with the simply stated spiral of "Life Cycle," the show's best work. In "The Sun," a big rusty spring rises from a brick pedestal as a spine for rope which splays out into a bright yellow-painted end.

Spaulding also draws on materials other than rope, as with the protruding, trellis-like design of "Bamboo Boogie Woogie" (a play on Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie Woogie"). Situated on the wall as you leave the gallery, "Dreams in Space" presents wrinkly pages of a book which have been hardened by resin and which seem to flap in some invisible, dreamy breeze.

These mixed-media pieces rely on the ongoing allure of found objects, and the secret artistic life waiting to be discovered within.

Currently in the store's window, installed in time for Ventura's "Eco-Artwalk" two weeks back, Michele Chapin is showing a junk sculpture of a different stripe.

"Tina the Mermaid" is a whimsical creature, built from objects scavenged at the beach, from the trash filling the chicken-wire tail to natural objects adorning her head. For good, quirky measure, she places goldfish bowls, with live fish, where breasts should go.

* Mixed-media sculpture by dm Spaulding, through May 3 upstairs at Natalie's Fine Threads, 596 E. Main St., Ventura. Gallery hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Tue.-Sat.; noon- 4 p.m, Sun.; (805) 643-8854 or (805) 643-9190.


Women's Work: The art space at the Cal Lutheran library is a modest but suitable place to hang art. The gallery is framed on one side by a stained-glass window which depicts the rolling hillside beyond the campus. If a bit off the beaten path for resident art-goers, it is nonetheless a venue worth considering.

At the moment, the gallery hosts "Festival of Women in the Arts," a somewhat curious curatorial premise. The artists pursue individual paths, and don't necessarily deal with issues relevant to gender, so what does being a woman have to do with it?

Nonetheless, the worth of specific work is evident here. The most striking pieces in the show are the large photographic portraits by Donna Granata, as part of her "Focus on the Masters" series. Granata has documented several established artists in Ventura County, in essays and stylized photographs.

Here, we see large, crisp color portraits of Mary Beth Hanrahan, the young artist who has worked with murals, and veteran painter Gerd Koch, who teaches at Ventura College and produces vigorous, mostly abstract canvases.

Hanrahan is seen in profile, looking pensive and ready for work in a deep green jumpsuit, against a wall with preliminary markings. On the other end are electric squiggles of light, a surreal technical flourish by the portraitist.

Koch, also in profile, is superimposed on top of (or beneath) a thicket of brush strokes, a detail of one of his own paintings.

Hand-tinted photography has a place in the show, between Catherine Dickerson's images from Old World travels and Eloise Cohen's portraits of girls and an older woman.

Jane J. Kang shows contemplative abstract acrylic paintings, with Oriental inflections.

Sandra Fae Manoogian's truncated nude studies are contemplative in a more audacious way: She depicts male and female torsos as isolated, faceless slabs of humanity, viewed from clavicle to genitals, all set against bright red backdrops. The bodies have been reduced to anatomical archetypes.

In her "Morphology" series, Manoogian divides canvases into checkerboard composites. In one, she has carefully cut, peeled back and stapled the canvas, literally piercing the illusory skin of the painting. She's working with ideas as well as images, which may have little to do with being a woman, but much to do with being a contemporary artist.

* "Festival of Women in the Arts," through May 13 in Pearson Library at Cal Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks; (805) 493-3151.

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