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Softness With an Edge

March 03, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a relatively new kid on the art block in the San Fernando Valley, a good sign of cultural activity on Ventura Boulevard.

The SOHO Gallery opened in May and has been settling in ever since. Behind the operation are the three Lurie brothers from New York, where they ran a gallery in the East Village.

Although there are plans for eventual expansion, the gallery is just a narrow slip of a space along the retail corridor in Studio City. But there's plenty of space to comfortably house exhibitions in a rotating array of artists from various ports.

At the moment, a two-person show gently pushes artistic buttons and adopts mild-mannered Expressionist attitudes, while remaining in the realm of the pleasant. The soft-spirited nature of the art is in keeping with the gallery's alter ego, as a showroom for Piper Interiors. This art would look good in a living room, board room or gallery where art-lovers dare to tread.

Lynn Bernay of Santa Fe, N. M., shows print works and collage pieces in a series dubbed "Graffiti." Much as we try to avoid typecasting art according to geographical origin, the art seems to run New York urbanity through a filter of Southwestern gentility.

Her works rely on literal collage techniques and conceptual approximations with overlapping layers of material and interlocking shapes. We find hints of figurative imagery, usually obscured in some way. Looseness is the key here.

Reg Loving's paintings are abstract pieces that lean toward figuration without fully committing themselves. Even in an ostensibly figurative work like "Misterioso," with its lean, ambiguous nude figure centering the painting, the figure appears to be as much a cipher or a visual device as flesh and blood.

Loving, also from Santa Fe, has a nice sense of where things go in a painting to instill enough tension while avoiding edginess. Sometimes he bows to the looming influence of Diebenkorn with his balance of structural openness and careful geometric equilibrium.

In "Desert Hegira," a pale, arid expanse in the composition's center is contrasted and framed by little bursts of denser colors and more forceful brushwork on the periphery.

Smaller, more intensely hued paintings present a different kind of charm. "Laguna" is a pint-sized diptych, depicting seabirds and coastal vegetation. And "Mendenales" pushes its palette in a direction that recalls Andre Derain. The smaller the scale, it seems, the more intense the palette in Loving's work.

For those seeking art in the Valley, SOHO is a gallery to keep tabs on.

BE THERE

Lynn Bernay and Reg Loving, through March 18 at the SOHO Gallery, 12206 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m.; open late Friday-Saturday night. (818) 766-5579.

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