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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

Beauty Has Us Surrounded

Regional references abound in 'Ventura River Bioregion.'


This month, poetic justice visits the Art City Gallery, the best place in town for a multimedia-plus-poetry exhibition called "A Celebration of the Ventura River Bioregion." Perched on the outskirts of Ventura, and a stone's throw from the Ventura River, the gallery has hosted many shows with a decidedly nature-minded orientation, and sometimes with unconventional, guerrilla art tactics.

If comfortably fuzzy in its curatorial focus, this bold local show basically concerns the beauty to be found in our own backyard. That also goes for the immediate "yard": On any given day at Art City, sculptors and stone workers are found grappling with rocks.

This is one of those big, brawling, friendly shows that illustrates the vibrancy and special charm of Art City, replete with two- and three-dimensional art, as well as examples of Gwendolyn Alley's poetry. Suitably, her work here is proudly regionalist: full of references to life in Ventura, drawing on the confluence of nature and the psyche.

Paul Benavidez's "Night Swim" is a Frank Stella-like relief assemblage, which hangs like a painting but behaves like a sculpture. Within the rectangular frame, layers of forms and shards rise off the surface, evoking a sense of immersion and motion--hence the title.

The photography contingent is generally strong here, and, of course, nature-minded. Charles Davis takes in the celestial body of the Hale-Bopp comet, slicing like a cosmic vapor trail through the night sky.

Landscape photographer and conservationist Michael Moore, who has spent more time on our region's back roads and byways than most anyone, celebrates the force of rushing water with "Inkblot: Sespe River at Devil's Gate Bend." Here, two prints of the same photograph have been printed in reverse and abutted, giving a Rorschach blot impression. The same mirror-image effect is used toward an end of pleasant deception in Tina Sunburg's "The Haunting," in which two reversed images of a tree are blended to create strangely pure symmetry, something not found in nature.

Ojai artist Jane McKinney, who is making some of the most exciting landscape art around these days, shows two of her small, alluringly mysterious pieces. "Rivermouth" and "Down River" gain strength from their soft-edged balance of elements--water, land and vegetation--merging in a slightly otherworldly way.

Sculpturally, the show covers a lot of territory, from the sensuous contrasts of Alexandra Morosco's mixed-stone work to Joan Duby's fishy "Surf Perch." In the epic-scale realm, the most dramatic piece in the gallery, set in the middle of the space, is Eric Richards' rusty pseudo-machine, with a moving pendulum attached to a curious assemblage of metal parts.

With "Deconstructed Tree/Reconstructed Tree," a piece that may touch on the essence of the exhibition's premise, Frank Lauran borrows from nature and attempts to pay back with interest. A large, gnarled tree limb is whitewashed, propped up like a tree itself and festooned with wooden pegs, a man-made manipulation of nature-made materials.

In all, the show is vintage Art City fare. There will be a Solstice Eve Party in the gallery Friday night from 6 to 10 p.m., featuring "living history, music and spoken word."

* "A Celebration of the Ventura River Bioregion," through July 6 at Art City, 31 Peking St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Sun.; 648-1690.


The Art of the Print: Patricia Pike, who is showing her printmaking at the Buenaventura Gallery this month, is a case of an artist enjoying a rebirth. After retiring from "the corporate world" six years ago, she chose to explore her dormant artistic interests and studied printmaking at Moorpark College, where she is now an assistant teacher.

She has apparently been making up for lost time, if this crop of images--diverse in technique and subject matter--is an indication. The linocut entitled "Nikon Man" depicts a man and his camera, poised for the next exposure, while the figures are vague, almost apparitional in the tall, slender piece "Well of Souls." Some of the most affecting pieces are the most ambiguous, including the red-suffused landscape in "Dusk at Red Meadow," or the mystically faint evocation of "Dusk."

Other highlights in the gallery this month include Nicole Erd's landscape paintings--thickets of visual activity, which draw the eye into an all-over perspective, as in "Spring Impression." Robert Wassell's landscape, "Madulce," interprets a mountain scene as a series of interlocking forms, reminiscent of the work of Marsden Hartley.

And those of us who are suckers for bovine imagery will at least admire the scenery in Shirley Ransom's "Grade A on the Hoof," a diptych with cows galore, some fully finished and some fading out. It's an unintentional reminder that the County Fair is not far off.

* "The Pleasure of Printmaking," through June 28 at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tue.-Sun.; 648-1235.

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