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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

Sage--and Spunky

Beatrice Wood retrospective exhibits range of works--from demure to racy.


Southern Californian visitors to New York City this spring might be heartened to find a sizable presence of "local" artists making a mark on the big city. The Whitney Biennial exhibition, for example, is thickly populated with Southern Californian artists, including Ed Ruscha, Chris Burden and Jason Rhoades.

Meanwhile, down at the American Craft Museum on 53rd Street, Ojai's own living legend, Beatrice Wood, is toasted with a huge retrospective, "Beatrice Wood: A Centennial Tribute." Wood, 104 years old and counting, remains a local luminary who, even now, is not content to rest on her laurels.

The retrospective show will land at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in September, but for a small, juicy slice of the artist's output over the years, head over to the Milagros Nest Gallery in Ojai, for the show titled "32/104." The title indicates the age spread of the artist, and includes drawings, lithographs and pottery.

One of the earliest works is a charmingly funky, naive watercolor from 1932. Interestingly enough, the piece, depicting two primly dressed women in an atmosphere both quirky and warm, is demure compared to more typically salacious or free-spirited Wood imagery more than 60 years later.

Her drawing "Thinking of Home," from 1996, depicts a turn-of-the-century-style, top-hatted gentlemen--one of her signature images--surrounded by female mid-sections, which clearly are fodder for his imagination. Other recent pieces are tellingly named: "Tell Us a Dirty Story" and "Monogamy is Impossible" offer obvious themes.

But this is hardly news. As we know by now, when she's working outside the neutral, abstract realm of non-narrative ceramic pieces, Wood's concerns are unabashedly geared toward the libido and social constraints. She's got the spirit of mischief behind her work, and it's become part of her persona.

Another rarity in the show is a platter dating from 1957, a lustrous piece with a Madonna and child theme. Elsewhere, religious subjects are hardly evident. Take, for instance, "Not in Church," a piece organized with a Cubist visual scheme of mosaic-like facets and forms, with bits of female nudes and winsome faces tucked into the pattern.

In other pieces, Wood empathizes with her female subjects. She depicts long, Modigliani-like faces in "He Left" or "So This Is Why My Husband Leaves Home." In "Shadows of the Mother-in-Law," a stern silhouette of a figure lurks behind the picture of a cowering young woman.

Viewing this spunky, unpretentious artwork, we don't immediately consider the remarkable fact of Wood's age, but knowledge of her sagacity adds to the allure. She started making art late and, thankfully, is staying late.

* "32/104," art by Beatrice Wood, through Sunday at Milagros Nest Gallery, 307 E. Ojai Ave., #104, Ojai. Gallery hours: 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Tue.-Sun.; 640-1453.


Mall Works: One of the best places to check out art in Thousand Oaks is at Janss Marketplace, former site of the Conejo Art Museum and now home to an artists' co-op called Gallery 9. It's a copious, well-lit space, in the midst of mall culture, but who's complaining? More power to it.

The current crop of art, in the show "Creative Link," is typical of the broad sweep of styles to be found in this artful mall stop. For Michele Relkin, the vibrancy of mixed-media inventions--combining paint, collage elements, tactile surfaces and complex patterning--is the point. Collagist Betsy Milligan is more fastidious and slightly giddy in her paste-ups.

Katherine McGuire's sure- and light-handed watercolor paintings portray Southern California as a carefree, unpopulated, Mediterranean wonderland. Jane Hespenheide's point of reference is the inherent intrigue of rock art and petroglyphs.

Carol Greene's elaborate mixed-media relief sculptures depict creatures, mythical and otherwise. Patricia Legnon's landscape paintings have a humid air, with sun-dappled scenes and travel memories that seem to drip with sweat. Old-fashioned painter Mary Ann Panopoulos shows portraits of pensive figures on the beach or in downtown Ojai, while Bettina Winter shows pastel landscapes of Mediterranean and Southwest landscapes.

One of the more impressive artists on view is the French-born photographer Marie Chantal. She boasts a refined, poetic eye at work in her enigmatically cropped images of village life, or in capturing the austere beauty of bare trees in snowy terrain. She says a lot inside a limited range of stimulus.

In this gallery, the something-for-every-taste agenda rules.

* "Creative Link," through June 29 at Gallery 9, Janss Marketplace, 205 Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Tue.-Sat.; noon-6 p.m., Sun.; 379-1901.

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