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Fringe Benefits

When Ventura's Art City takes in artists of V2 Gallery, it's business as unusual.

May 16, 1999|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When it comes to art thriving on the outskirts of convention in the Ventura scene, one tends to think of Art City, home to artists who care about ideas and more than just pretty pictures.

But they're not the only fringe game in town. Consider, for instance, the circle of artists represented by the V2 Gallery.

Currently, the stars are aligning, the forces are converging and the V2 Gallery artists have settled into the Art City Gallery.

In a sense, the effect is familiar in this space, where rambling, and sometimes audacious group shows of two- and three-dimensional work are common. Only the cast of characters has changed, with some overlap.

Take regular Art City citizen Dan Layman, whose rusty metal insects are placed cleverly in the corners of the gallery, stealthily lurking.

Paul Benavidez, too, has shown his work under various auspices around town, and in this show presents some of the more peculiarly captivating stuff. Continuing in his exploration of recycled and post-industrial materials in his sculpture, he shows "Turntables," odd fiberglass pillows on the wall.

Yet more compelling is the weird and eye-catching "Triad as Yet Untitled"--a mutant form suspended in the air, made from a rough-hewn casing of milky translucent material, built around wooden picture frames.

Inside are old computer motherboards, those ominous and ubiquitous emblems of life force in this hyper-cyber era. The piece looks like an alien life form, crudely cobbled together from earthly components.

Further adventures in quasi-sci-fi allusion crop up on the back wall, where Don Ulrich shows his mosaic-based assemblages and relief pieces. A paradox is in place here, between the crafty, organic quality of his blending of shards and the flamboyancy of a piece like "EV 2000."

It's an imposing figure, all futurist angles with pieces of mirror further distorting our sense of perspective, on close examination.

The painting aesthetic here is a broad one, from different sides of the subtlety spectrum. Wyndra Roche, who runs the V2 gallery in Casitas Springs, shows a painting here herself.

In "Portrait of a Child," a thicket of warm-toned brush strokes encircles the vague silhouette of a child. Deborah Brazell's abstract paintings are airy and liquid, with seeping, spare gestures reminiscent of Frankenthaller and Sam Francis.

In another corner, Richard P. Schaefer shows some of the most quiet and inviting art in the room.

In his semi-minimalist paintings, subtle modulations of surface and a meditative quality contrast with the sensory conceit here: Hints of dripping paint create soft stripes across the compositions but have been turned horizontal, tweaking our perception even as we sink into the atmospheric intrigue of the art.

Charles Baptiste's paintings evoke mystical ideas, placing common animals in strange settings. Snakes in space are the subject in "Dancing with Don Juan," while a darkly wise cat stares out of "Lucifer." The iconography is more ambiguous in Daniel Sterling's triptych "Umm . . . ," with visual material that seems, at once, like floral abstraction and a depiction of cosmic energy in a tangible form.

Sterling also works in sculpture and shows marble pieces whose amorphous formal characteristics are mirrored in his painting.

Another artist who tends to follow his muse across various media and conceptual areas is Charles Fulmer, a charter V2 member.

We never know quite what to expect from Fulmer, who wriggles between refinement and rawness of expression.

The paintings in his series "Turkish Delight," though seemingly a hayseed cousin of abstract Expressionism, slyly allude to figures in states of undress and erotic unrest.

Fleshy contours and hints of anatomy slither between compositions fitted with glob-like shapes, suitable for interpretation as the viewer sees fit. The figurative impulse continues in his sculpture, with loosely rendered nudes and an art-about-art assemblage that puts art appreciation in ironic focus.

It's business as unusual at Art City and a good opportunity to take a gander at a different Ventura-based artist collective.

DETAILS

"V2 Gallery at Art City," through May 30 at Art City Gallery, 31 Peking St., in Ventura. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Sun.; 648-1690.

* Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at joeinfo@aol.com.

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