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Bare Essentials

In 'Oil and Stone' exhibit, paintings and sculpture communicate human form through abstract ideas.

May 21, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD S | PECIAL TO THE TIMES

Undraped human forms are nothing new in Art City, where the gallery periodically mounts shows under the dubious rubric of "erotic art." But the nudes in the current exhibition, a two-person showcase for painter Nicole Duet and sculptor Alexandra Morosco, come from a different place, a loftier aesthetic. Erotic elements are purely incidental.

That said, one of the strongest artworks in the lot approaches the subject of nude studies from a coy, peripheral viewpoint. While most of Duet's paintings deal with nude subjects of varying age and character, she goes for something entirely different in one called "The only man, wearing a suit in a room full of naked women."

Aside from the winking irony of the title, it's an accurate description of a fully clothed, rather gloomy young fellow sitting in a sheepish, wary position. The painting itself is hardly an ironic novelty item, conceived with a Thomas Eakins-like realism, its effective moodiness etched in the dark atmosphere and rich, yet unfussy brushwork.

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Elsewhere, we find mostly--well, a room full of naked women. Lounging anatomies, expressively painted, are the focus in "Persephone Rising" and "Persephone Descending," while a more conservative, beach art show-brand approach to a nude appears in "Anima Mundi [The Soul of the World]," its figure looking demure and romantically backlighted.

Ages and shapes of bodies vary wildly, suggesting an equal-time attitude toward nudes who are not necessarily cut from the mass media-fed standard of beauty.

A young woman, knees splayed, gazes at the viewer frankly in "Guardian," while "Eve" portrays an older woman, spread out in a pose of languid sensuality.

Sculptor Morosco, who has also been responsible for making this gallery one of Ventura's most interesting art spaces in the last few years, has a maturing way of depicting figures in stone.

Her work often deals with the fragmentation of form, celebrating the curves and masses of the female nudes but blending them with abstract ideas.

"The Voice Within" is a figure seen from the belly up, head hung low, hair tumbling, as if in a tangled gesture of introspection.

The svelte female torso of "Caryatid Sun Goddess" appears to grow out of its sandstone, indicating that this is an artwork about the process of art-making, of transforming inert material into creative expression. She also brings a similar raw appreciation of form to the curvaceous properties of other subjects, as seen in "Exfoliating Garlic" and "Shell Undressing."

Here, as in Duet's own still-life studies, the secret life of this art is unveiled, expressing not so much only an admiration for the beauty of nudes, but the raw brunt of art about nature. That could be deemed, by some, as out of step with the nervous art scene at the moment, with its post-post-Modernist hunger for subtexts and clever strategies. But art well made will always be its own reward, regardless of its relationship to external fashion.

DETAILS

"Living Stills: Communications in Oil and Stone," Nicole Duet and Alexandra Morosco, through June 4 at Art City, 31 Peking St., Ventura. Gallery hours: Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.; 648-1690.

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Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at joeinfo@aol.com

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