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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

Global Exposure

Photographer discovers art in the everyday images of far-off cultures.

October 08, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura's art scene moves in mysterious and changing ways. Fine art photography, that sometimes neglected niche in the artistic firmament, makes its presence known in three notable exhibitions.

The Atget Gallery, a new space with great potential, named after famed photographer Eugene Atget, has opened its second exhibition. The work of John C. Lewis offers inspiring imagery from Mexico and Africa.

Down the street in the balcony gallery of Natalie's Fine Threads, a photographer familiar in county art circles, Jurgen Kuschnik, presents work that adds up to a portrait of the artist as a restless eclectic. The Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard continues its own recent commitment to the photographic medium with a show of work by Philippe Halsman (to be reviewed in a later column).

Lewis traveled to West and East Africa as well as Mexico on commissions from the Getty Conservation Institute. He shows a sharp, intuitive eye, sometimes using unusual dark-room techniques such as "Sabattier effect," similar to solarization. But the purely visual aspects are never at the expense of the fundamental human interest at the core of his work.

One of the most striking pieces is also one of the most innocent. "Boy With Leopard Mural" plays off the visual resonance between a boy's rich, ebony skin and the faded image of a leopard painted on the wall behind him.

A natural sense of mystery informs "Atelier des Tenturas," as a sweep of tree branches looms over a group of dilapidated shacks in a cosmic, protective embrace.

Two contrasting works command attention in disparate ways: "Audience" shows a ritual gathering of villagers in the West African locale of Benin, a dead cow at their feet; while "Human Landscape" zooms in close for its slice of humanity, a mouth and nose of a dark face forming an elegant emblem of human dignity and poise.

Finding the stuff of art in the everyday, Lewis captures memorable scenes that conceal as much as they reveal. "Skipping" finds a girl in mid-skip down a stone pathway in the countryside, and "Bicycles" is a smartly framed composition of a clutch of bicycles parked in the woods, hinting at youthful abandon just outside the frame.

These are images of far-off places and cultures, with an exotic intrigue that increases as the world's culture veers toward corporate- and mass media-sponsored homogeneity. But more than just feeding our appetite for views of remote global corners, Lewis invests aesthetic values into work that is plainly humane.

Lewis will conduct a "Conversation With the Artist" in the gallery at 6 p.m. Oct. 24.

* John C. Lewis, "Between Two Worlds," through Oct. 31 at Atget Gallery, 1484 E. Main St., Ventura. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 2-6 p.m.; (805) 652-1122.

*

Hither and Yon: The fine photographer Jurgen Kuschnik has exhibited works throughout the county during the past few years, usually in teasingly small doses in group shows. But the show at Natalie's lets us see how wide that range is.

The photographer has gone through a number of phases, often emulating icons of the medium. Notable are similarities to Edward Weston in a landscape image, such as "Aspen," or a nude, "Human Pepper," in which the curving, curling figure resembles a vegetable analogy.

Kuschnik also heads for the comforts and tight control of the studio, and there he has produced images crisply stylized but with an air of the surreal. "Candy Sunset," seen in various shows, is a prime example: Life Savers casting portentous shadows. In "Gummi Bear Market," glistening little creatures march over stock reports.

One of the most vivid studio pieces here is "Contratex," a gleaming and lucid shot of a camera in the foreground and an out-of-focus female breast behind it. It reads like a vision of the photographer's objects of desire.

In recent years, Kuschnik has also departed from straight photography into the altered reality of manipulated Polaroids. With these, the edges are roughed up, and the effect is of images that exist in the nether world between photography and painting. It's yet another wrinkle in the engaging world of Kuschnik's diverse view-findings.

* Jurgen Kuschnik, through Oct. 31 at Natalie's Fine Threads, 596 Main St., Ventura. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; (805) 643-8854.

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