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Sense of Space

Three sculptors use large rooms to show unusual pieces on common themes.


The most inspiring new art space in the county has grown an extra limb--just in time for art requiring breathing room.

Last year, the Studio Channel Islands gallery set up shop in the remote, expansive property of the former Camarillo State Hospital, soon to be Cal State Channel Islands. Besides the gallery proper, the allotted space wends back into hallways and large rooms suitable for artists' studios and other functions.

For its current show by three provocative young sculptors--Russ McMillin, Mark Taylor and Chris Turk--the show spills from the gallery into the hallway, allowing the generally large and large-spirited pieces to savor the luxury of space. Context does make a difference in how we see art and, in this case, a denser exhibition would have robbed the work of its subtly contemplative nature.

Besides sharing an interest in unusual material and scale, the three artists are recent graduates of the MFA program at Cal State Northridge. Their objectives and techniques differ radically, but they have a common interest in creating primal sculptural objects on specific themes.

The artist who probably benefits most from the spacious presentation is McMillin, whose "Duality Consciousness" series has been seen at Art City but without quite the same open-air effect as here. He deals with paradox in this series of large oval relief pieces, divided down the middle and contrasting different materials. Variously, the works play off the duality of redwood lathe and plywood, copper and fiberglass, wood and crumpled lead.

If McMillin's work aspires to poetic elegance, things get rough in Taylor's art. Detritus and castoff materials are used, and abused, in the series called "Area Gray." Metal and plastics have been fused and metamorphosed into pieces that look both abstract and all too familiar in the world of industrial aftereffects.

Taylor's work shows evidence of harsh and incendiary processes, sometimes using a furnace to create his art. For all its brutal surfaces, though, there are allusions to hidden beauties, in the gentle, almost painterly gradations in rusted metal or the gangly edges of tweaked hunks of steel.

Most of the art here affixes itself to the wall, but not entirely.

Sitting in the middle of the gallery is Turk's formidable heap of a sculpture, "Regressive Progression."

It's a carefully-balanced pile of railroad ties and ceramic tubes, which appear as faux archeological artifacts. A tranquil accord is achieved between the forces at play.

Back in the hallway, Turk's big relief sculptures are earthy in at least one direct sense, through the use of dirt and gravel and the illusion of topographical mapping gone mad. But the irregular contours and oddly protruding forms also suggest nature having been violated, as if affected by industrial or nuclear wastes. Echoes of sci-fi catastrophes and real-life perils meet the more purely artistic equilibrium of Taylor's work.

Like his gallery mates, Taylor is on the trail of an aesthetic about real things in real space, but pushed beyond easy sculptural conventions. All told, it's the kind of art show you have to be there to understand, or at least to appreciate.


"In Contemplation of Now," through Aug. 26 at Studio Channel Islands, 79 Daily Drive, PMB 270 in Camarillo. Gallery hours: Thurs.-Sat., noon-3 p.m.; 383-1368.

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

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