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Stylistic Manipulations

New exhibit offers a glimpse into the private painterly world of Carlisle Cooper.

November 04, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A year ago, veteran Ventura artist Carlisle Cooper showed his distinctive paintings at Art City, on the literal and often artistic fringes of the city. This month, his work shows up in the neater, more climate-controlled setting of the Buenaventura Gallery downtown.

Somehow, his art fits comfortably in both settings, partly because his is an aesthetic that goes in more than one direction. Cooper's work is clearly figurative, but with overlays of abstraction in the treatment of recognizable themes. Subject-wise, too, he veers from themes that are alternately socially conscious and more purely art-for-art's-sake.

His current show is more than just another art exhibit. Cooper has been granted an honorary life membership to the Buenaventura Art Assn., with which he has been involved for 36 years, and this show offers a glimpse into his private painterly world.

Stylistically, Cooper's artworks seem to correlate, in paint, with the technique of darkroom (or, via computers, Photoshop) manipulations of an original image. The viewer can easily recognize the subject of a piece and its relationship to its surroundings, but the details run amok. Colors and contours are distorted, edges roughed up and light sources twisted or streaked. In works like "Standing Nude at Lake Shore" or "Construction Man," the protagonists are squarely addressed by the artists, but surface effects rule.

It's not always clear what Cooper is getting at with his obscuring technique, and some pieces work better than others. "Two Golfers" depicts just what the title promises, but it looks as if a casual snapshot has been subjected to a wild visual make-over. "Proud Lady," on the other hand, is a dramatic portrait of a woman in Victorian-era garb, the light washing over a small section of her face and training the viewer's eye on the swarthier, unfinished-looking areas of the composition. It's a lesson in seeing.

The clergy subject of "Cardinal" is also found in a swirl of embellishments, though not nearly to the degree that Francis Bacon, for instance, deconstructed his figures into expressionistic reinventions. Cooper's approach is mild-mannered, and one that seems uniquely his own.

DETAILS

Carlisle Cooper, through Nov. 11 at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tue.-Sat.; 648-1235.

I'm already old."

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PRIMAL STREAMING: Over at Natalie's Fine Threads, Michael Zelcer shows his own brand of stylization in the show he calls "In the Beginning." Zelcer takes his cues from pictographs and cave paintings detailing Stone Age life, all bold elemental simplicity in the drawing, swathed in decorative flair.

Zelcer uses the unusual technique of oils painted on the reverse side of glass, called "eglomise." That quixotic effect is combined with imagery of early humans, animals, and, in one piece, that atavistic creature, hammerhead sharks, in crude, black line drawings. The figures are set against atmospheric backdrops that appear abstract and cosmic, like one artist's vision of primal debris.

The context is primarily a visual scheme off of which the artist riffs. But anthropology does enter the picture occasionally, as in "Bison Hunt," which depicts a looming, humpbacked animal and tiny, bow-wielding hunters, suggesting that the attempt to tame nature, by creatures with opposable thumbs and tools, has begun.

Also in the upstairs gallery are intriguing, personalized sculptures by Helle Scharling-Todd. Her "Eroding Landscape" pieces are made from rough sea green glass, erected into rectangular pillars. Their tidy geometry is offset by flaking glass pieces, suggesting the asymmetry of nature. Her "Glass Semaphores" are tall glass panels with transparent impressions of bodies, either jumping for joy or splayed like corpses outlined in chalk by detectives. The ambiguity beguiles.

DETAILS

Helle Scharling-Todd and Michael Zelcer, through Nov. 25 at Natalie's Fine Threads, Upstairs Gallery, 596 E. Main St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Tue.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun.; 643-8854.

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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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