As the exhibition title implies, "Surfaces: Real and Implied" draws on the efforts of four artists to explore various attitudes toward the surfaces shown in their work. The current group show at the Century Gallery is a compact but intriguing reflection on what goes on at and below the face of things, at the hands of very different artists.
The actual, tactile surface is a central point of expression in Barbara Nathanson's works on wood panel. Sometimes, they suggest the color schemes of minimalism, but with intellectual cool blended with the appearance of rough stucco skins or textures found in the plant world. Lest we view Nathanson's work too casually, her overly weighty titles--i.e. "Rage Under That Enormous Melancholy"--convey tension otherwise only hinted at.
In some ways, photographer Bob Sanov presents the most reality-based imagery of the group here, but the end results are also some of the most abstract.
He trains his eye on the strange-yet-true, asymmetrical patterns found in sand dunes or desolate terrain, or the raked textures on ancient rock formations, depicted in self-consciously cropped close-up views.
Reality rears its head in a metaphorical way in the work of Barbara Kolo, who shows large, realistic drawings of single hibiscus flowers, in all their gnarly beauty and crinkly complexity. In a series of these fastidious flower portraits in black and white, the particularity of the subject yields to an atmosphere more surreal and symbolic than botanical.
Perhaps the most compelling work in the show is also the hardest to account for: Marian Castinado's enigmatic work is created by the manipulation of developing chemicals on light-sensitive paper, making for a medium that exists in a nether world, between photography and printmaking. Likewise, her subject matter appears to exist between the known world and some other dimension, where our sense of space and object identification are thrown into disarray.
In her compositions, odd biomorphic shapes bulge and cluster, as if they are alien life forms or organisms seen greatly magnified. In "Neighbor," weird organism-like protrusions seem to squirm toward a light source, beneath a text about an elderly neighbor. It's an unsettling but also sensuous image that goes beneath the surfaces of the artist's own conjuring.
"Surfaces: Real and Implied," through Feb. 11 at the Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St. in Sylmar. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday; noon-4 p.m., Saturday; (818) 362-3220.