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ART | SIGHTS

Go Figurative

Group show brings an engagingly eclectic vision of humanity to downtown Ventura.

April 23, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The show is called "Window to the World: Figuratively Speaking," a title that seems odd at first blush, considering figurative work often involves shutting out the world and training one's focus on the personality and human contours at hand. On the other hand, figurative art is a way of telling the story of humanity in all its global diversity.

Of course, this aesthetic issue becomes moot when one realizes the true origin of the show's title. "Window to the World" is the subtitle of this year's Ventura Chamber Music Festival, which kicks up its heels April 30 and runs for 11 days. The festival, in its four-year history, has become a dramatic fixture on the Ventura cultural calendar, so what better excuse to sponsor art of another medium?

It's also a nice excuse to officially bring art to downtown Ventura, and to this ideal venue, the Banca d'Italia Art Gallery, upstairs from the scenic eatery/hang-out. It would be nice to see art here on a regular basis. Hiroko Yoshimoto, the artist who also has her own exhibition currently at the Buenaventura Gallery, has curated a show that brings out a number of familiar local faces and names.

The fine Ojai artist Sherry Loehr has been absent from the scene for a spell, having spent a year abroad, and returned with a new figurative emphasis, as seen in her recent show at the Nomad Gallery. Here, Loehr shows a few paintings, including a wistful and affectionate rendering of a fading old school photo from 1953, with the self-revealing title "My 50-Year-Old Self Paints My 5-Year-Old Self."

Leslie Clarke, whose work is regularly featured in the Nomad gallery, creates portraits of people from distant lands, set into her own decorative/abstract backdrops. The most effective example here is "Banda," a rough-hewn piece in which a proud African woman, shards of foreign text and a semblance of a map come together in a happy convergence of elements.

From another figurative corner appear Donna Granata's big, warmly hued photographic portraits of artists--including a few of the pieces seen in her current show at the Carnegie Art Museum. The most fitting one here is a portrait of Burns Taft, the conductor and intrepid artistic director of the Chamber Music Festival, seen with eyes closed and hands conducting in mid-gesture, lost in some musical dream.

Carlisle Cooper depicts surfers in his characteristic style, with iridescent and psychedelic bands of refraction around the subjects. Gayel Childress heads down a new path, with her "Librarian series," in which the ambiguous form of a female nude is tucked into paintings that are essentially abstract.

Other works here: watercolorist Mona Neuhaus' gentle human interest studies, including a scene of kids brandishing Diet Pepsis; Shirley Ransom's whimsical mixed media concoctions; Bruce Freeman's print works in his strangely economical and affective "Sumo Series"; Myra Toth's sculpture "Amuse, Be Muse, To Muse"; and Ledlie Corse's frank, unpretentious self-portraits.

Sometimes, in a group show such as this, certain oddities jump out for attention. Jane McKinney, who has been showing her mystically tinged landscape paintings of late, brings out a few charmingly surreal figurative pieces for this show. Identities are fused and confused. A man in ethnic garb points to a painting of himself in a business suit, while a small lion with a human face seems to be peeing on the furniture, and a small image of one of McKinney's trademark paintings hangs on yonder wall.

In another piece, nude adults romp on the floor in a tangled scenario that may or may not be sexual. And on the gallery's stairwell, paintings of women bask in "Alice in Wonderland"-esque suspension of reality.

In a completely different way, Richard Peterson's "This Charming Man" evokes mystery and a slight vertigo by rubbing our face in reality. In a lucid, photo-realist style, Peterson paints a man who is holding a cigarette, his ample belly covered by a white T-shirt, while he leans against his white convertible and squints in the midday sun. Suburban bliss and pride of ownership beam off the image, as does an objective appreciation for the strange beauty of the everyday.

* "Window to the World: Figuratively Speaking," through May 15 at Banca d'Italia Art Gallery, second floor, 394 E. Main St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: noon-9 p.m., every day; 648-3146.

*

ART FOOLERY: The current "April Fools" group exhibit at Art City II plays up the all-important playfulness and prankster facets of that gallery's personality. It's a loose but lovable collection of works and ideas, as usual here.

Here we have the post-dada work of Charles Fulmer's "Tonto" tribute and Don Layman's sculpture of pliers and VW parts dangling from the rafters competing with the Deadhead sentimentality of Judy K. Suzuki's "Gone Home," with the late Jerry Garcia playing guitar in the big vacant lot in the sky.

Steve Ruffino's paintings present a vivid and sparkly naivete, sprinkled with references to Picasso and folk art schemes. Wyndra Roche's "Christmas Sushi Under a Fullish Moon" is an innocent little feast of color and macro-close observation. On the back wall, Doug Lipton's "Peek-a-Boo" is a painting of a skeleton, behind a curtain, an etude in layered meaning.

Little things can convey big notions. Tina Sundburg's ostensibly scrappy aesthetic hides its charms under a bushel--or in the underbrush. Her photographs of trivial scenes of weeds and brush have been overlapped, photo upon photo, a process that questions the nature of photography. Do two mundane images, piggybacked, reduce the quality of mundanity or amplify it? The question itself is, potentially, an answer.

* "April Fools Show," through May 2 at Art City II Gallery, 34 Peking St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Sun.; 648-1690.

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