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Moo-ving Pictures

rtists stir emotions of fair-goers with giant sculpture and small portraits.


It's opening night at the Ventura County Fair 2000, and the senses are reeling. Sounds spike the air, from the grinding whir of stock cars around the grandstand to the grinding backbeat of the rock band Fangboy and the Ghouls at the Pepsi Starbreeze stage.

Later, the sound turns to the eerie "kersmash" of colliding metal, as part of the demolition derby. The reporter sits in the front row in the noisy arena, and bits of flying mud soil the notebook. It's a county fair moment, a reality check.

Over in the livestock zone, life is winding down for the evening. Herbie the water buffalo munches hay, impervious to the gawks of onlookers. Sheep are settling in for the night in their PJs, while others are being shorn.

Meanwhile, in quieter corners of the fairgrounds, another perennial enticement of the fair flourishes.

As always, the art is separated into a Pro Arts gallery--where many of the local artists seen in galleries around the county appear--and an Amateur section.

The sculpture garden outside the Pro Arts includes a flamboyantly painted "art car," a Jaguar festooned with wild colors and designs, by Lucy M. Harvey. And for oxen's sake, Eric Richards offers his own life-size version of a water buffalo to counterbalance the real thing just down the way. His sculptural style is primarily realistic, but Richards confers a special twist by fashioning the sculpture from rusted metal.

The two-dimensional selection includes such highlights as Phyllis Doyon's seeping, psychedelic "Garden Power" and Kerry Miller's subtle but perceptive figure drawings. Nabbing the "Best of Show" award is Preecha Prompabtuk's "Waiting," a detailed watercolor portrait of a homeless man sleeping by a liquor store.

Despite the polish and occasionally aesthetic bright spots in the Pro Arts building, some of the most intriguing stuff shows up in the Amateur section--sometimes off the wall, sometimes full of feel-good spirit, but always worth a look.

Quirky delights abound, from the colored-pencil drawing of Dan Meadows' "Three Who Define the West"--Hollywood cowboys, with John Wayne in the center position--to Monte Elchoness' warm, curious painting of portly women in an apartment building, where a compressed sense of urban space and a voyeuristic perspective combine with a surprise element of bonhomie.

There are plenty of traditional landscape paintings and things we would expect, but the more unusual works have the strongest appeal. Xavier Montes' painting, "La Dolores (Aztec Dancer)," is a proud image of a fancifully-headdressed Aztec woman, peering skyward.

Other artworks seem to exert alluring winks toward the willing viewer. Emma Oslai's "Linda," a portrait of a lean-faced woman with sad eyes and wind-swept bangs, keeps tugging at your attention as you wander through the exhibition. Is it feminine mystique, artful conveyance or both?

For this viewer, the image that registers the firmest grip on the eyes and imagination is Manon Hamile's simple, quietly compelling painting of two ornamental shoes, done in a rough, unassuming style somehow reminiscent of Philip Guston. The wall behind is etched with barely visible markings, like remnants of pictographs or a child's drawings that have been painted over but not very thoroughly. There is a secret life suggested in this painting that works on more than one level.

If the fine arts exhibition area finds fairly slim pickings in terms of quantity this year, the photography exhibition is overflowing. This may say something about the democratic nature of the medium. Almost anybody can aim a camera and shoot. The end results vary widely, of course.

Among the more impressive makers of images is Ellen Thomas, showing a number of fine black and white images, from children to the visual mesh of the landmark Bradbury Building in Los Angeles.

In the tricky domain of artful color photography, the best example is by Christiana Wilson. Her shot of a snow-covered street through a "Spaghetti House" window, has that certain ambiguous something, a convergence of composition, color and balance of elements that seizes the retina in the happiest way.

By whatever name, in whatever venue you find it, it's called art.


Ventura County Fair through Aug. 13 at Seaside Park in Ventura. Exhibits open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Adults, $7; children 6-12, $4; seniors 55 and older, $4; children 5 and under, free; 648-3376.


Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at

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