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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

Faces of Truth

Portraits from Lithuania recall memories of a tragic past.

March 19, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sherry Loehr, one of the finer fine artists calling Ojai home, has for awhile now been missing in action from local galleries. She spent a year in Lithuania, and returns home with a series of intriguing paintings of indigenous peoples.

It's good to see her work on view again, in a show called "Transitions--Images From Life in Lithuania," at the Nomad Gallery. A logical venue for this art, it is the home gallery of artist Leslie Clarke, whose own work involves portraits of native peoples encountered in her travels to Africa and elsewhere.

Based on impressions of Lithuanians she encountered, Loehr's new pieces are radically different from the studio-generated, mixed-media approach characteristic of earlier work. Clearly, this is more along the lines of field work--portraiture of a people sifted through the artist's filter. As she notes in a statement, a legacy of turbulence has besieged Lithuania. Though freed from the U.S.S.R. in 1991 when the iron curtain fell, Lithuania, like many nations in Eastern Europe, has suffered challenges to cultural identity in the 20th century.

She implies the lingering memory of a tragic past in the weathered, yet stoic faces of older subjects, which contrast with fresh young faces. Loehr is a fine painter, who renders these faces with crispness and warmth, framed against abstracted, textured backdrops. In this context, they look posed, but without affectation. It is the perspective of an admiring outsider, looking for truths in faces.

* "Transitions--Images From Life in Lithuania," throughFriday at Nomad Gallery, 307 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; 646-1706.

American Landscapes: A very different sense of place comes through the work of Claire Rantoul, an eightysomething artist who divides her time between Ojai and Martha's Vineyard, two idyllic and somewhat mythic American locales. In her show at the G. Childress Gallery, "From Here and There," Rantoul comes off as a landscape painter deftly working that line between observation and invention.

Older watercolor pieces in the gallery, solid but traditional landscapes of the New England seashore, show whence the artist came.

Her newer pieces are looser, often depicting landscape elements as abstract swipes of color, reducing nature to essential elements.

"Poppies" is stacked with bands of vibrant color, an orange stripe in the middle echoed in a paler orange sky. In "Lompoc," the striking flowery visual aspect of that city's fields is pared down to a vague patchwork of hues. Interlocking forms make up her composite impression of "Upper Ojai."

One of the best paintings here is "Orange Mountains," a disarmingly plain, yet striking work, which is a carefully considered construct of visual components more than a documentation of a real place. Green trees cast blue shadows, and are rendered extra vivid by contrast to the suffusion of orange hues in the background.

A painting such as this doesn't arouse so much a love of nature as of culture, and the endless ways an artist can process inspiration and create something new and personal. True to that tradition, Rantoul is onto something, in her own way.

* "From Here and There," paintings by Claire Rantoul, through April 18 at G. Childress Gallery, 319 E. El Roblar, Ojai. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 640-1387.

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