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ART | SIGHTS

Moving Subjects

Painter Jessica Dunne illuminates the beauty of traffic and transition.

January 29, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jessica Dunne's seven large paintings, now in the Brand Library's Skylight Gallery, spring from an ostensibly simple theme: She paints traffic junctures in San Francisco where the city meets the sea or the bay, and she does it with deceptive candor. In that city, you're never far from the water, and the juxtaposition makes the urban-nature interface more unavoidable than in most places.

But the artist goes further, drawing on the idea of transition, on many levels. At the same time, Dunne uses her observations to elevate the commonplace reality of traffic. Transformation of outlook is the goal. Dunne relishes the celestial between-zone of twilight, as in "Sloat at Sunset" and "Traffic Jam."

A certain tangible traffic angst is conveyed in her portrayal of the slow crawl approaching the Golden Gate Bridge from the north. Once we divorce ourselves from drivers' perspective, though, the image becomes something else: a beautiful procession of twinkly red brake lights under a magenta-blue sky. Something so elemental as the sheen of a rain-slicked parking lot is the subject of "Arrow."

Smaller works in the gallery depict lean, abandoned streets and a behind-the-scenes view of Dunne's studio, with works in progress propped up like windows on another world. Overall, humans are conspicuously absent: autos, public works and the found geometry of the City by the Bay are her characters.

In short, Dunne's paintings succeed in the simple art of seeing what's obvious and searching for new meaning--in traffic, no less.

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AFTERMATH ART: In the atrium gallery, Denice E. Bartels shows sculptures and wall pieces that relate, by poetic extension, to the L.A. riots. It was during that volatile period that Bartels began to concoct little houses from the fragile safety of her own studio. It was the beginning of a series of artworks in which security and danger do a dizzy little dance.

Little houses of varying size are scattered through the hallway gallery, but they send out mixed messages. They appear like the featureless structures from Monopoly but are painted black, painted faintly with imagery of domestic life. We find children at play, a picket fence, landscaping, a tree swing--but also, on one house, barbed wire, drawn in silver-gray paint, like ghostly apparitions or scenes drawn from ashes.

Two-dimensional pieces on the wall continue the paradox, with seemingly innocent images drawn into potential conflict or struggle--children on a seesaw with flames tickling their feet, a bed with a ladder.

Generally, a quiet sense of foreboding arises from these houses, these archetypes of comfort taken out of context. Bartels finds a way, personalized in her art, to deal with sensations of social fragility, triggered by the riots but ultimately part of the human condition.

BE THERE

Jessica Dunne and Denice E. Bartels, through Feb. 21 at the Brand Library, 1601 W. Mountain St. in Glendale. Gallery hours: 1-9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 1-6 p.m. Wednesday, 1-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; (818) 548-2051.

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