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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

Contrasting Views

Landscape works showcase local talent and differences in style.

September 03, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Many of the artists featured in the show at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art will be familiar to those with even a cursory awareness of the region's art scene.

They tend to show up regularly in local galleries and participate in group shows and the county's art circuit.

But what a difference curatorial spin makes. The freshness of "Points of View: Landscape" is found in the context provided by curator Tim Schiffer. The exhibition is not only a showcase for local artists, but also an investigation into the radically different approaches to landscape art.

The studies in contrast begin at the entrance.

Flanking the front door of the gallery are the works of Jane McKinney, who creates moody and mythic landscape pastels, and the watercolor of Katherine McGuire, who depicts spare, airy views of Ventura's streets and structures.

In McGuire's hands, the place looks vaguely enchanted.

Richard Schaefer's acrylics on paper are similar to McKinney's in their odd, cropped perspectives and minimalist pictorial sense. In personalized ways, Norman Kirk and Don Fay show controlled and evocative use of watercolor, and the conventional landscapes of Doris Pederson and Constance Faye Haverlah contrast with Jacquelyn Cavish's "Red Flame and Jade," a strange, prickly slice of plant life.

Meredith Brooks Abbott shows her firm command of landscape painting tradition, but with local resonance: "Ventura River Outlet" is a dusky view of the site known--when the rain comes-- s a volatile juncture of nature and city. As locals know, the river will have its way.

The definition of landscape can also incorporate the social and civic realms, beyond the life of plants. Robert Thornton's floating assembly of brush strokes, tossed together with a free hand recalling Stuart Davis, portrays "Our Town" as a gauzy impression of a cityscape.

Reality is more pressing for Lisa Kelly, and the presence of landmark buildings provides the compelling iconography of her super-realist paintings.

She shows a crisp, kitsch-filled portrait of the Bell Motel in Ventura, teeming with bright, over-baked colors and a naturally ironic adaptation of the city's mission lore.

Then there is the Granada Theater building, built before city codes lowered the skyline. Kelly views the edifice from a dizzyingly tilted angle, with children's goofy faces in the foreground.

Richard Peterson has often used art to illuminate more dimly lighted corners of the social landscape. Here, he relies on ink-jet prints to explore the armpits of "civilized" life. "Hobo Jungle" and a view from below a freeway underpass depict, with a fittingly fragile surface effect, out-of-sight spots that have been home to the homeless.

The two-person photographic contingent in the show reflects the importance of having something distinctive to say, a sense of personal values from behind the viewfinder. Jurgen Kuschnik's manipulated Polaroids, of tree limbs and plant details, appear as through a dream filter.

Michael Appuliese's Cibachrome images are understated documents of rolling tan fields in Tuscany. The arid plains resemble the euphemistic "California gold" of our regional geography.

One inventive variation on the landscape painting tradition comes courtesy of Hiroko Yoshimoto, whose "Flight Over Palos Verdes" is a fragmented landscape painting, chopped into bird-like shards of canvas assembled on the wall.

Another familiar artist, Nancy Whitman, shows new vigor and abandon in flamboyant views of Ojai and an interior scene thrumming with loose energy in the brushwork. Betty Saunders' palette, too, leans toward the hyper-vivid, but more muted than Whitman's.

Sharon Coughran-Rayden's pastel "View at Vacant Lot" divides its composition rationally, with its orderly geometric blocks of farm land.

Speaking of regulars on the scene, the formidable painter Gerd Koch has shown his work and been written about in this column frequently in recent months.

But he has hardly worn out his welcome, and his surging display of color and form, a landscape fed through a filter of abstraction, is a dazzling entry in the gallery.

Generally, the artists here are no strangers to the humble art world of the region, but the setting becomes them.

In the company of artists who deal with a common tradition in separate ways, the work takes on a collective purpose that transcends individual achievement. That's the beauty of context.

BE THERE

"Points of View: Landscape," through Sunday at Ventura County Museum of History and Art, 100 E. Main St., Ventura. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday; 653-0323.

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