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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

Archeological Ties

Primitive references link the wall art and sculpture of two Ojai artists.

July 02, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As active and inventive members of the Ojai art scene, Gayel Childress and Gretchen Greenberg have collaborated and circled around each other on numerous occasions. Few of their interactions, though, have had the particular symbiotic resonance of their joint show at Childress' Ojai Gallery.

A tangible sense of artistic dialogue connects Childress' two-dimensional pieces on the wall and Greenberg's sculptures "peopling" the floor. The common ground is a conscious influence of cave and rock art. Archeology and primitive cultural references are the thing here, making a small satellite exhibit at the Albinger Archeological Museum in Ventura a logical extension.

In the Childress Gallery, Greenberg's figurative wood sculptures suggest a chorus of halo-bedecked angels, and their sense of formal repetition provides rhythm and a means of reflection. The figures are similar in scale and style, though no two are alike. Thus the collection becomes a series of variations on a theme.

Frescoes, wall art and sculptures from caves of the Singing Sands in Mongolia form a basis of inspiration for the pieces--called the "Temple Figure" series.

Childress shows a series of clay monoprints, her brand of theme-and-variation. With her malleable medium, she generates layers of visual stimuli, often involving raw images of animals and fish, and an unaccountable "spirit figure" from Australia. The sources are global and primeval, the stuff of pictographs and other early cultural markings.

By processing these sources, from outside the normal ken of contemporary art, Childress shows a taste for the atavistic while asserting her own modern art-making sensibilities. One could detect a Paul Klee-ish quality in her piece "After Mountain Lion." And "After Bison, Ice Age" is a humble slice of time, in the largest sense.

Often, the mottled, varied backgrounds are punctuated with tiny bursts of pigment or powdery tufts, always veering toward abstraction. The point could be made that abstraction is an impulse as old as the species, but codified and given a name and market value in this century. The works by both artists continue on a merry path, old and new, equal parts representation and pure invention.

The show manages to be refreshing in outlook and a sensible extension of what's in the historical air. In a general sense, artists in the 20th century, more than artists of earlier times, have sought to unearth connections that bind us to other cultures, other epochs in the human experience and other ways of seeing.

Here, Childress and Greenberg ponder some of the earliest-known human scratchings and filter them through their thinking in this millennial twilight. It's a natural attraction, to look backward and forward, in the effort to understand the present.

BE THERE

* "New Work Inspired by Rock and Cave Art by Gayel Childress and Gretchen Greenberg," through July 31 at G. Childress Gallery, 319 E. El Roblar in Ojai. hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; (805) 640-1387.

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