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ART | SIGHTS

Contrasting Images

Photos show reverence and disregard for the medium.

May 22, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD and SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With the work of John Drooyan and Kevin Axt, now at the Brand Library, photography becomes artfully undone and reshuffled. Drooyan manipulates and sometimes shows dismissive regard for the medium, while Axt shows reverence for photography's powers of inquiry.

Drooyan, a Bay Area artist who makes his Southern California debut in the Brand's capacious sky-lit gallery, has little concern for pristine images, or the hegemony of a single medium. There are always layers, dialogue and self-sabotage in his art.

Take his "desert target" series, an elaborate setup. Showing an irreverent view of arid landscapes, he places ominous, inexplicable geometric objects in such far-flung areas as sand, caked earth and desolate plains. A loony mystique arises from the tension between subject and ground: Are these monoliths invested with metaphysical purpose? Or are they sculptural objects banished to the other fringes? You decide.

Other photographic deconstructions include Cibachrome prints--mostly bland, catch-as-catch-can shots of junkyards, byways and urban wastelands--which have been freely adorned with ragged found objects and strange frames. "Omnivores of the Blue Lagoon" is a shot of a harbor and pilings gooped up with actual tar on the print and frame.

A love of stylistic funk and conceptual tactics are apparent in Drooyan's art. He also shows iris prints in which grainy visuals share pictorial space, uncomfortably, with sharp-edged squiggly lines, like little stowaways in a realm of ambiguity.

And then, sitting conspicuously in a far corner of the gallery, as if lording over its mostly two-dimensional neighbors, is "Mephisto," a crumpled slab of rusted metal placed inside a giant inner tube. It resembles a godhead with a vulcanized halo, sitting on a table covered with mundane snapshots.

For Axt, showing in the Atrium Gallery, photography began as a logical, utilitarian medium to document his travels, but he grew to appreciate a deeper and more exploratory purpose. Photography, like no other medium, has the capacity to capture moments, to freeze time and place. Axt deploys his camera as a tool to illustrate stolen bits of visual "found art," oblique views of exotic locales that are off the beaten path.

We find clean, close-up photographs of signs, windows and doors, often in states of beautiful decay. Sometimes the context shifts and the perfectly real becomes decorative or abstract. Bright yellow and red oxygen bottles in Cozumel, Mexico, exert a visual rhythm, and the six-image shot of broken windows in Virginia City, Nev., becomes a sequential investigation of a banal topic.

Rather than getting lost in the chic haze of ironic detachment, viewers of Axt's images will find emotional resonance. The study of broken windows, for example, comes equipped with a tinge of melancholy, suggesting desertion, vandalism and lost decorum--if not lost innocence.

Axt taps into a long tradition in photography, finding art in out-of-the-way, come-what-may places. He keeps things fresh by using his sharp eye and intuitive sense of what separates art from flotsam.

BE THERE

"Neurorealism," art and photographs by John Drooyan and Kevin Axt, through Sat. at the Brand Library, 1601 Mountain St., Glendale. Gallery hours: 1-9 p.m. today; 1-5 p.m., Fri.-Sat.; (818) 548-2051.

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