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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

Spirited Tribute

Memorial exhibit for Ventura painter shows off his lighthearted nature.

March 26, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Artist Rob Beckett, who died recently, had been a part of the Ventura art scene for the last decade. He was one of those locally based artists who brightened the scene with a sense of style as identifiable as it was enjoyable.

There's a certain unpretentiousness and freedom of spirit in his work, often rooted in the imagery and lore of the ocean, that defies artistic seriousness. But his was an aesthetic true to itself, a rare achievement for any artist.

That quality of deceptive lightness shines through in a memorial exhibit at Art City II, combining several of the artist's works with that of his peers, from Beckett's own collection.

The show presents an endearing slice of art life in Ventura, reminding us how Beckett's art contributed to and tapped into Ventura culture, as a beach town and a haven for artists just outside the mainstream. He exhibited at Triangle Gallery in Hollywood Beach, the old Palm Street Gallery in Ventura and, recently, the V2 Gallery.

The works culled from Beckett's collection tell a story, as well, about the cooperative nature between groups of artists here. Charles Fulmer's "Dog Painting," Carlisle Cooper's "Early Morning Jogger" and the late Kim Loucks' "The Black Fuzzies After Dark" are among the collected pieces. In one corner hangs Doug Lipton's tribute to the artist, "Rob X's Four," tinged with Warhol-esque replication.

Beckett was an artist in tune with the sea. Beyond the literal undersea imagery of "Tropical Menagerie" and his "Aquarium Series," there is a sense of submersion and flotation in other paintings. Objects and physical relationships are freed from their moorings, in this gently surrealistic art.

"Not in Your Hand" depicts M&M candies and a monolithic Hershey bar, flung into a realm free of gravity, in more ways than one. The mood grows dark and slightly foreboding in a local scene with the self-explanatory title "End of Broken Ventura Pier, Winter 1996, Early Afternoon."

Beckett also created paintings depicting a spare gathering of artifacts with personal meaning. The work has an air of nostalgic reflection, loosely rendered and fondly remembered. Likewise, the artist is fondly remembered through the lingering force of his art.

* "Rob Beckett Memorial Exhibition," through March 29 at Art City II gallery, 31 Peking St., Ventura. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday; 648-1690.

*

Words and Things: The show in the upstairs gallery of Natalie's Fine Threads dwells on potentially trivial things, like, say, words and such office supply goods as sticky notes and tape flags. Of course, the agenda of Scott Hyers and Jason Mahakian has to do with the transformation of the commonplace, which invites us to readdress daily reality and what we assign meaning to.

With his work, Hyers is up to visualized wordplay, experimenting with interactions of language and images. "Expectation/Pain" assigns a separate vertical band of color for different letters, isolating the word "pain" from his hosting word, "expectation," and drawing the inevitable link between the two: the pain resulting from unrealized expectation. "En(Trances)" is spelled out with fuzzy letters.

In another painting, he pulls a stunt recalling the famed word-oriented artist Ed Ruscha by spelling out the dumb Zen bumper sticker maxim, "Escape From the Fantasy of Escaping." Apathy yields to chuckles.

Mahakian, on the other hand, has an apparent fetish for office supplies. Sure, office supplies have their own weird charm, as products in the service of the holy purpose of organization. But when the artist bothers to create pile-up pieces with multiple "Hello, My Name Is . . ." stickers or "Things to Do" notes, in the name of art, we recognize something mildly subversive.

In this show, the artists' materials and approaches may differ, but similar bluntness and dry humor connect their work. At issue, for both, is the sanctity and the comedy of mundane things.

* Scott Hyers and Jason Mahakian, though April 4 at Natalie's Fine Threads, Upstairs Gallery, 596 E. Main St., Ventura. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m., Sunday; 643-8854.

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