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SIGHTS

Spiritual Visions

Four artists explore personal imagery and ethereal allusions.

October 22, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spirituality in art is one of those gray areas, not seen but often felt--from the religious iconography of earlier painting through the reflective strategies of abstract artists such as Mark Rothko. Clearly, it's an ambiguous territory and hard to quantify, but as integral a part of aesthetics as it is elusive.

The spiritual instinct in art is also a highly subjective matter, an underlying message of the group show "Spiritual Presence" at the Century Gallery. The four artists gathered under this one roof use diverse means and methods to explore their own relationship to spiritual ideas.

Ricardo Ortega is a Mexican American artist whose work weaves in and out of traditions, artistically and in terms of religious focus. Following the socio-historical evolution of Mexico, the artist blends aspects of Catholicism and touchstones of pre-Columbian culture and belief systems.

Tension and dialogue between the two form the core of the works, as in "With a Vision of Promise," in which a Christ image, an eagle and a Mayan-period pyramid share the pictorial space. "In the Name of the Father" adopts a similarly layered effect to a different end, by superimposing a crucifixion image and God the Father, giving literal, if partial, form to the Christian concept of a holy trinity.

Tara Mozafarian's image source and link to a spiritual presence comes more directly from art history, entrenched as it is in imagery created for the church. Her surreal composite pictures leapfrog, with varying degrees of seamlessness, from visuals snatched from vintage art to personal imagery and celestial allusions.

It could all be read as art about self-inquiry, about unresolved questions of artistic identity. In a piece from her "Venus and Me" series, for instance, a reference to classical sculpture is viewed alongside a photo transfer of the artist herself, with a length of rope connecting the two, if very loosely.

Hearts provide Judy McLaughlin-Ryan with her central motif, in an ironic manner that amounts to a dose of comic relief in the show. Pieces based on such cliches as "Touching the Heart" and "Sheltering Heart" depict the heart of legend as organs, not just as symbols. She tips us off to her own therapeutic agenda in making art with the winking, punster's title "Reconstructing Art Surgery: For Your Own Good."

From the sculptural concern come works by Barbara Gawronski, scattered on the gallery floor. She deals in found objects of potential ritualistic or symbolic import, often placed in chalices used in communion. We find such recurring objects as mirrors, instruments of literal and internal reflection, and feathers, emblems of flight.

Spiritual history also has a place in Gawronski's art, as with "Chalice for Polish Brethren," with stones bearing the names of notable Polish religious thinkers. Her work, unlike the others, concerns the esoteric details of spiritual thought, as processed through a highly personal filter. Then again, spirituality, like art, is always highly personal.

BE THERE

"Spiritual Presence," through Sat. at Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon.-Fri.; noon-4 p.m., Sat.; (818) 362-3220.

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