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Photo Finish

Kristin Vanderlip uses processing technique for painterly effect.


When is a photograph not a photograph? Does the critical delineation come when modifying darkroom techniques are used, or when such post-processing methods as hand-tinting change the pure image? The question is wide open to debate, in a still-young medium supposedly about reality but entirely based on chemical manipulations.

Another intriguing variation on the photographic medium, the emulsion-altering process of Polaroid transfers, is the basis of the current show by Kristin Vanderlip in the Upstairs Gallery of Natalie's Fine Threads.

Vanderlip's work, pleasant diversions that soothe more than challenge the mind, draws on her extended medium to depict imagery just off to the left of reality as we know it. The genial roughing-up of the image through also tends to give the work a painterly quality.

In one room, Vanderlip's subjects dwell on varying degrees of exoticism, once or twice removed, found in Chinatowns in different American cities. It's a logical stance, in connection with her medium, once or twice removed from the pure image-making process. She takes to temples, Buddhas and quirky storefronts, like "Louie Art Store" in Los Angeles, its edges turned scruffy.

From San Francisco's Chinatown, we find a cleverly framed shot of the Grant Street sign. The real centerpiece, though, is a background sight gag of the famous neon sign from the Buddha bar: a martini glass and "Buddha" setting up a delicious paradox. Sometimes, an oblique camera angle aids in the goal of transforming the everyday into something mystical.

Yet more intriguing in this exhibition is Vanderlip's series of humbler subjects, close-up views of a doorknob, the door of a vault, light fixtures and ornate ironwork. These cryptic views of commonplace objects were actually taken in the hosting space, a store that specializes in vintage clothes and is an architectural landmark in downtown Ventura.

As such, these images are site-specific, their vintage nature accented with a sepia tint and ragged edges on the periphery, as if torn from pages of the past.


Kristin Vanderlip, through Sept. 9 at Natalie's Fine Threads, Upstairs Gallery, 596 E. Main St., Ventura. Gallery hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun.; 643-8854.


Group Think: Over at the Buenaventura Gallery, the annual Merit Awards group show mostly confirms what the regular art watcher in Ventura County already knows. Familiar artists work in their established stylistic veins, without much in the way of surprises. But who's complaining?

As before, this show provides a reasonably reliable, one-stop shopping survey of much of the good art made by local artists.

One of the striking exceptions is Fatima Ronguilo's "Manilena," a warm and folksy portrait of a Mexican woman, all sumptuous colors and bulbous contours. In the odd angle department, Christine Beirne's "Which Way is Up?" takes the prize, in a nicely rendered work of a painter on a ladder, viewed from below his feet. Call it a study in foreshortening.

Nicole Erd's "Peaceful Dreams" is a landscape with a shifting relationship to verisimilitude. Its nature imagery leans toward impressionistic abstraction, the specifics of its leafage veering toward dematerialization, to an artful end.

Katherine McGuire, who creates subtle watercolor views of the area, zooms out for a more generalized view than her usual architectural studies, with "Ventura XIII." In the bird's-eye view of the city, McGuire uses her cool sense of color and spare gestures to present a dense subject with unexpected grace.

Other locals whose work shows up regularly around the area include Jane McKinney, whose signature landscape enigmas, such as this show's "Quiet Day at Rivermouth II," continue to captivate. Nora Yukon's assemblage aesthetic, using natural materials and alluding to Native American culture, is well-represented by "Angel of the Street."

Colored pencil is used to good effect in Donna Clark's "Self-Portrait," in which dancing shoes and the artist's own drawing hand figure prominently. Celeste Jaeger's charcoal and white chalk drawing, "Recycle," depicts the lowly stuff of a paper bag and an old newspaper. It could be an ode to the recycling instinct or just a study in Zen-like observation of the everyday. Either way, it catches the eye and stands apart from the pack, always good in a group show like this.


2000 Merit Award Show, through Aug. 19 at Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tues-Sat.; 648-1235.


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

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