New York-based photographer Joyce Tenneson belongs to that sizable group of working photographers who straddle the fence between the fine art domain and the commercial world of magazines and portraiture-for-hire.
In most of the visual arts, such a balancing art is hard to maintain, since the commercial work carries an aesthetic stigma. In photography, one feeds the other, or plays off the other, a symbiosis evident in Tenneson's beautiful, and dream-like, imagery on display at the Janss/Nichols Gallery in Thousand Oaks.
Her work, usually in the realm of sensitive, slightly askew portraiture, manages to slither along the line between photography and painting. Edges are soft, palettes are muted and fabrics tend to be lacy and translucent--materials that fare better in a controlled studio environment than in the great, windy outdoors. Ditto her approach, which is generally studio-oriented.
Tenneson's particular paradox has to do with the balance of mysterious airs and a bracing visual clarity. It's partly technical, in that the images are captured via the special 20 x 24 Polaroid prints, which she either leaves as one-of-a-kind images, or replicates with a slide and turns into limited edition Cibachromes.
In one of the most eerily beautiful works, a lanky nude woman sits half-draped in white sheets, forming a gentle arc in what is obviously a studio setting. The visual character of the piece is so refined and delicate, we want to look closely for brush strokes.
Elsewhere, the same svelte model is at the heart of a startling juxtaposition, a nude form with a huge set of shark's jaws hanging about her neck like a grotesque necklace. In a less covertly erotic direction, another image depicts a pudgy couple from behind, their flesh and flesh-colored bathing caps creating a surreal scene.
Celebrities slip into the mix, almost matter-of-factly and without fanfare. Jodi Foster is seen in a dual-portrait with dual polarities of awareness--one with eyes open, the other closed. Jessica Tandy, looking elegant and otherworldly, is seen ensconced in a pale, gauzy setting, not quite of this world. The same could be said of Tenneson's fine art aesthetic. She may play it straight in her commercial work, but Tenneson has an eye for a real life dream world all her own.
Joyce Tenneson, "Illuminations," through Dec. 3 at Janss/Nichols Gallery, 1408 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Tues.-Fri. or by appointment; 497-3720.
Looking Back: Carlisle Cooper's unique style of painting, using an iridescent and expressionistic, almost psychedelic, approach to figural and social scenery, has been a familiar sight in Ventura. The veteran artist has taught at Ventura College for more than 25 years, and his work shows up in area galleries.
At the moment, a generous sampling, a quarter century retrospective's worth, has taken over the Art City II Gallery. Cooper has attempted to keep a finger on the socio-cultural pulse, with scenes that speak of current events and, by extension, quickly become period pieces--the danger of topical artwork.
"Rap Brown (Early Civil Rights Activist)" has a poster art quality, and "Soul Brother No. 2 (Vietnam Veteran)" finds a soldier with a pack of "Lucky Strike" cigarettes tucked into his helmet, the irony of the brand escaping no one.
A cosmic air enters some of the work, as with "Spacescape with Islands," as if viewed from an alien's perspective. Hints of sci-fi think figure into "Deadalus," combining the myth and a space-walking astronaut. Cooper also renders portraits of rock musicians and religious figures, seen as mythic icons and treated accordingly, with dramatic excess.
But the artistic perspective here is unclear: Is the artist glorifying them, or questioning their pretenses? Appreciation of Cooper's art, a defiantly personal milieu, may come down to an acquired taste. It falls somewhere between realism and abstraction, and it may be hard for some of us to get a grip on how this work best resonates.
Carlisle Cooper Retrospective, through Dec. 5 at Art City II, 34 Peking St., Ventura. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Sun.; 648-1690.