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ART | SIGHTS

Urban and Suburban Visions

Orlando Gallery exhibit depicts city scenes and natural settings.

June 12, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At first blush, there is little stylistic overlap between the graphically sharp watercolor work of Mary T. Monge and the effusive plant studies of Gloria Moses, presently sharing a show at the Orlando Gallery. Monge revels in the clean geometric lines and built-in nostalgia of signage and the architectural Americana of urban life while Moses is concerned with burying her head in the bushes, finding nature in the proverbial suburban backyard.

Disparate as they may seem, there is a meeting ground for the two artists. Monge depicts a romantic, wistful vision of life in the city, and Moses presents gushing paintings of foliage. For both, the urban--and suburban--dimension can offer as much lyrical pleasure as angst.

Monge shows a defined, and refined, taste for the sleek geometries of vintage buildings, theater marquees, and the kitschy charm of signage at places like the Frontier Motel. Motels and dimly lighted diners are favorite haunts. Her pictures echo influences of Charles Sheeler's precisionist hand and Edward Hopper, minus the Hopper-esque desolation.

An image of the decaying Roy's Motel Cafe is laid out cleanly in a horizontal format, accenting visual splendor rather than bleakness.

She gazes skyward with a titled perspective in depicting the vertical Granada Theater marquee in Santa Barbara. Architect S. Charles Lee's streamlined structure, the Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, appears as an inspired vision, with its spire--like an arcing coral seashell--slicing across a blue sky.

And then, from another corner of Americana, we find the chubby and heroic Bob, of Big Boy fame. In the painting called "Double Decker," Monge stacks the deck of realism by showing the little fellow (it looks like the classic Burbank Bob's), seemingly stepping across the divide separating plaster and flesh, offering a giant burger to passing patrons.

It's a surreal moment in Monge's otherwise subtly drawn observations of a real world in transition. Beneath the surfaces, this work seems to be a celebration of the pre-corporate, pre-'50s culture in America, which is still visible to the alert eye.

For Moses, whose landscape pieces extend the promise of her last show at the Orlando, her preferred artistic domain is that of dense, enveloping plant scenes. Her painterly style is just raw enough and her palette effusive enough to give landscape art a vaguely otherworldly look, even though the setting could be in the mild jungle of backyard suburbia.

"Giant Sunflower" is just that, an oversized image of a blossom without restraint, while paintings like "Summer Garden" and "Wild Ways" portray a kind of abandon not often found in floral art. She's attempting to give form to the unruly force of nature, pulsing beneath even an immaculately manicured garden.

* Mary T. Monge, "City Lights," and Gloria Moses, "River Gardens," through June 27 at the Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sat.; (818) 789-6012.

*

The Power of the Sketch: While artists sometimes seek solace in the studio, away from social storms, David Rose has spent considerable time on some of history's front lines, as a court sketch artist and social commentator. His art, dating back to satirical anti-Hitler cartoons from the '30s, buzzes with the immediacy of reportage.

Rose's exhibition now at the Platt Gallery, called "Celebrating 100 Years of Zionism: Artist David Rose Reports from Israel and the Jewish World," is a compact, yet sweeping portrait of the tumultuous and resilient path of Jewish life.

The show is organized into different sections of interest and chronology--including Palestine, the Holocaust, Israel, Eastern Europe--and includes affectionate depictions of his parents' bakery in Boston as well as scenes of Jewish life on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles.

Telling contrasts give this show its breadth and often pained narrative flow. "Worship With Joyful Song and Prayers" depicts a swirl of ecstatic worshipers. "Before the Holocaust" is a mosaic-like, composite image of Jewish scholars and glimpses of life's hardship, before the horrors. The holocaust is alluded to in "Kaddish," with block-letter names of concentration camps set against a backdrop of fire--and a candle that is mounted in the piece. "A Tree Grows in Israel" evokes the fragile tranquillity of the new land.

In all, Rose's show chronicles the Jewish-American experience through one well-traveled artist's observant eyes.

* "Celebrating 100 Years of Zionism," through Sunday at Platt Gallery, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Fri.; (310) 476-9777, Ext. 203.

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