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Sacred Grab Bag

Ventura gallery offers lively expressions of spirituality.

April 04, 1999|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The thematic glue behind the current group show at Art City II, "Behold the Sacred," ostensibly has to do with an ecumenical, cross-ideological offering of art with a spiritual subplot.

Just in time for the holy days of Easter and Passover in the Judeo-Christian world, the artwork here grapples with various spiritual ideas in various ways, coming together in an embracing, "under one roof" attitude.

But although there are some loose threads connecting that aesthetic ideal, the show is another in the series of wide-ranging art celebrations in this wonderfully rustic gallery, a robustly spirited grab bag with highlights that stand out from the throng.

This time, especially, the artworks are overflowing. Alice Lord's blithely colorful triptych, made from fabric/mixed media, is hung vertically, reaching toward the gallery's open rafters. On the floor, sculptures runneth over, limiting a visitor's free movement in the space--but who's complaining?

Sometimes, two- and three-dimensional art concepts meet in single works. Matt Harvey's "God Said to Go Forth and Multiply" is a large panel of gold-painted steel, with multiple organic shapes cut out to form a pattern vaguely like stained-glass windows. Suspended from the ceiling and set back from the wall, it also casts mirroring patterns on the wall in the evanescent form of shadows.

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Ironic jabs at creationist themes crop up, as with Russel Erickson's "Bobbing for Paradise," an alabaster piece that happily mixes apple and snake metaphors. M.B. Hanrahan's relief piece, "Meet in Eden," includes in its menu of imagery a serpent, a skull and the original couple, tussling under the apple tree.

Elsewhere, we find more sincere, direct expressions of faith, as in the Christian sculptural works of Mitchell Mays and Dean Mar. From other religious persuasions, the meditative image of Muli Maka's sculpture "Om" follows a Buddhist course. Spiritual and social politics come into play with Rick Bury's Cibachrome photographs of Chumash cave paintings, which touch on native mysticism from our own neck of the world.

One of the strongest pieces, Ursula Wolf-Rotkay's "Ode to the Virtues of Memory," is barely linked to spirituality per se, unless it is a pantheist belief in the oneness of nature and human consciousness. A landscape painting spread over a triptych is fuzzy in the distance, while sharp in its treatment of the soil in the close foreground. The optical effect suggests the view through a lens with narrow depth of field.

The real eye-catching anomaly in this piece is the presence of metal air vents, emblems of domestic creature comforts, affixed to the canvases and painted over as if they logically belonged there. It makes for a strange convergence of imagery and materials that wouldn't normally go together, except possibly in the perplexing data-masher that is human memory.

Mortality and morality come out to play in Judith Bonzi Dubrawski's assemblage "So Quickly Bright Things Come to Confusion." In this clever sculptural tableau, a butterfly sits on a chair marked "Desire," while a skeleton sits glumly off to the side, like Rodin's "Thinker" minus the flesh.

Alexandra Morosco's appealingly stark, understated found-object sculpture, "Gethsemane," makes the most of minimal material. Above a decorated plaster scroll broken into shards on the floor, a thorny tree hangs on the wall, its form alluding to both the crucifix and the crown of thorns.

Found objects are also at the heart of Holly Charlton's impressive work. She has an intriguing way of transforming common materials, salvaged and recycled, into works that beg for interpretation but resist easy reading.

That paradox is in place with an untitled piece blending such materials as ribbon, a lock of human hair, a worn leather strap and a wooden clamp into a construction that alternately refers to the crucifixion and to ambiguous torture implements. The piece is sufficiently open to interpretation that it could be a genuine reflection on Christ's martyrdom or a comment on the fetishism of suffering perpetuated through religious mythology.

In this and other pieces in the show, bask in the inherent complexity of the exhibition's premise. The subject of spirituality in art, after all, is as pressing and timeless as it is vaporous, and endlessly fascinating.

DETAILS

"Behold the Sacred," a group show through April 10 at Art City II, 34 Peking St., Ventura. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Sun.; 648-1690.

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