Sandra Yagi's paintings, now at Ventura College, don't take things at face value. They can't be easily explained, or appreciated just as paintings for painting's sake, and that's the secret of their appeal. Combining philosophy and aesthetics, the San Francisco-based artist uses her work to explore the fabric of existence, the interrelatedness of objects and beings, and the illusory nature of art.
Her watercolor pieces often deal with the gleaming transparency of glass tubes and marbles. They are, on the surface, simpler than her more elaborate paintings on canvas, although the painting titled "Eidos in Chaos" acts as a transition between the two groups of paintings. With its image of chess pieces flung into the air, we sense the running theme of suspended animation and suspended meaning, existentially speaking.
In the surreal pastiche of "Existential Dilemma," a woman stands in a room with butterflies, flying through a mirror--becoming a portal--into a sweeping landscape. Small inset images on one side of the composition depict such things as mating rabbits, as if it were a logical addendum to the compound image in the painting. Mating rats, emblem of the life cycle, are among the subjects in the periphery of another work, "Vita Rattae."
Imagery is compartmentalized into a honeycomb matrix in "Apiary," making a self-conscious juxtaposition of the life of bees and urbanites, in their own self-inflicted cubicles and workaday patterns. In the middle, we find the dogged Sisyphus, contending with that darn rock, a reference anchoring a painting both funny and insightful.
"Bosch for the Millennium" returns to the motif of a mirror through which a vision appears, this one of a hellish, red-hot vignette of Hieronymous Bosch dimensions. It might be a forbidding image if the painting's scenario didn't qualify it as an example of Apocalyptic kitsch.
Yagi's paintings are engaging, and also mystifying, requiring interpretive viewing. In other words, the art is true to its intent.
Over in the New Media Gallery on campus, a group show called "States of Being" consists of several artists who deliberately disfigure and otherwise reexamine the figure. The figurative impulse dates to the earliest examples of artistic expression, and will no doubt stay with us. The challenge for contemporary artists rests in finding fresh ways to address something so elemental.
For Tim Tracz, the stubborn memory of classic models in art history is addressed in his "History of Art Nenude" series. Here, photographs depict present-day nude figures with projections of older artworks, by Rubens, Balthus, Durer, cast on their flesh. Central to his work is the question of where reality fits in with the various layers of representation.
Joe Ventura's whimsical sculptures depict nude figures painted on rectangular boxes, with fragments of figures springing into three-dimensional life. It's as if these figures are in the process of being liberated from captivity in two dimensions.
Ambiguous figurative elements are caught up in different types of abstracted imagery in Katherine Coons' antic color brushwork and Elizabeth Leger's charcoal drawings. Thom Brown's monotypes show dancers as murky, dream forms. Stephen Marc's piece from his "Soul Searching Series" is a large photograph featuring assorted imagery seamlessly stitched together and manipulated in the darkroom.
The integrated parts here may define each artist's search for self, as well as reflecting the show's search for new ideas of how the figure figures into art of the moment.
Sandra Yagi and "States of Being" through March at Ventura College Galleries, 4667 Telegraph Road, Ventura; call gallery for hours; 648-8974.
Thick and Thin: Westlake-based artist Lesley Bernsen experiments with imagery of varying thickness in her exhibition of mixed-media works at the Ventura County Government Center. Her collages show good expressive instincts, balancing order and kinetic energy, in a medium often lending itself to cut-and-paste overkill. "Train to the City," for example, is a piece, built from cutouts and other source material, depicting both urban dynamism and the decaying surfaces of the city.
But the most memorable work here veers in the opposite direction, with paintings that tighten their focus on simple objects, viewed with fresh, probing perspectives. A basic hard-backed chair, flanked by ghostly outlines serving as visual echoes, takes on a narrative melancholy in "Missing You."
Another fetching, poetic study of the everyday is "Taped [sic] Out," in which a rustic plumbing fixture--painted with the raw grace reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud--is tilted upward. It spouts water, inside which the stenciled letters of the title spill forth, like a fount of wisdom. A lowly fixture emerges like a heroic icon.
Lesley Bernsen, mixed-media works, through April 1 at the Ventura County Government Center, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura. Gallery hours: 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 654-3963.