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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

A Right Angle

Henry Villierme's pieces with a patchwork perspective create a refreshing view at Carlton Gallery.

June 26, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A twinge of instant recognition greets the visitor to Carlton Gallery, where the fine artist Henry Villierme is showing his paintings. The eye grazes over the artist's small, vibrantly colored and consistently stylized views of landscapes and townscapes, transformed into visual patchwork. The mind instinctively thinks Richard Diebenkorn, before he followed the muse into abstraction.

A closer look, though, reveals something deeper than a mere imitation of Diebenkorn's signature reductive approach, something more personally expressive. In fact, Villierme studied with Diebenkorn and played a role in the Bay Area Figurative Movement decades back but slipped out of the public art scene for years. Now he lives in Ojai and works at Thacher School, and his paintings arrive on the scene here as a refreshing blast of inspiration.

Villierme's paintings, mostly of fields and buildings, are structured as seductive sequences of forms, rather than seamless interpretations of real space. "Cityscape" presents the city from a rooftop perspective, high above the thrum of human activity. Translating the lines and angles into meshes of geometry, Villierme reshapes the observable world into images that are both vivid to behold and thoughtful in conception.

Showing downstairs in the gallery are examples of Luther D. Gerlach's unorthodox approach to photography. Gerlach achieves a unique, antique-like effect by using a vintage large-format camera, painting emulsion onto paper and developing an image in the sun from the large negative.

The results are sepia-toned pictures that are quite distinctive, as if existing in some nether world between photography and print medium. Sometimes, the special effect is the main attraction, but in his best works, such as "Montana Barn" and "Abique Window," the technical circumstances become invisible and an enigmatic beauty takes hold.

* Henry Villierme and Luther D. Gerlach, through Aug. 1 at Carlton Gallery and Frame, 307 E. Ojai Ave. Suite 102, Ojai. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m. 646-1902.

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Mixing Media and Milieu: Now showing in the Upstairs Gallery of Natalie's Fine Threads--which is turning out to be a valuable art resource in downtown Ventura--Duane Simshauser's mixed media pieces suggest desert poetry. A vague sense of mysticism hovers over these collage-like works made from paper and acrylic.

In "Hand on the Moon," layers of imagery--birds, horses, clouds and a moon with a handprint--add up to a dreamy composite. With "Crow Listening to Jazz," the title tells the story, with its bird-based scene organized with a loose, "jazzy" attitude.

"Rainbow," the sole sculptural piece, takes mixed media sensibility into three dimensions. It's a semi-ritualistic assemblage fashioned from a painted stool, a cow's skull and other rustic artifacts.

"First Cave Days Fertility Pageant" is the most intriguing and whimsical piece of the show, with its swollen, pregnant bodies--little quasi-primitive icons--floating amid a decorative visual pattern.

* Duane Simshauser, through July 11 at the Upstairs Gallery, Natalie's Fine Threads, 596 E. Main St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sunday; 643-8854.

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Banking On It: Art always needs a warm, welcoming home, whether inside or outside of the usual gallery circuit. The Ventura branch of Wells Fargo, on Chestnut Street, slated to close its doors on Aug. 22, is, in the meantime, doing the local art scene a good turn by making a back room into a gallery space.

A current exhibition of work by local teachers is modest fare, including Patricia Robinson's Scottish landscapes, Torri Sepulveda's subtle nude studies and Lynthia Neslon bucolic watercolor of the archaic Los Osos School. The space, centrally located and open during banker's hours, is a nice, albeit temporary, addition to the map of art venues in town. It's a good, corporate, neighborly gesture.

* Wells Fargo Bank, 101 S. Chestnut St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday; 648-3117.

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