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Drawing a Crowd

Group show gives an overview, but lacks the appeal of a one-on-one experience.


It has been the season of group art shows for the sake of group art shows in Ventura County recently. Buenaventura Gallery is on round two, with the current 15th annual Juried Competition, following its earlier Merit Awards show and the "Classic Competition" show at the Carnegie Art Museum last month.

These shows, for all their unapologetic diversity and curatorial fuzziness, afford valuable overviews of the artistic landscape in the county, but seeing too many of them in a short time can be a bit wearying. One is ready for more intensive, intimate exhibitions, the close communication of an intimate conversation versus a crowd scene.

Occasionally, there is even overlap, as with the appearance here of Fernando Venegas' modest little gem of a photograph, "Munich," which was one of the memorable pieces in last month's Carnegie show. It wouldn't be so noticeable a redundancy if the work weren't so intriguing.

Despite the inherent breadth and general purpose overview of the show, certain themes do seem to rise out of the mass. For one, there is a strain of watercolorists who pay close attention to seemingly mundane sights and find there a philosophical hum of poetry.

Paula Odor's "Thrift No. 2" is nothing more dramatic than a view of garments in a thrift store window, and nothing more dramatic is necessary. Norman Kirk summons up a nostalgic desolation in his piece, "Another Time, Another Place"--its dilapidated structure conveying time's passage with suitably rumpled charm. And, true to the title of Lois Bloom's "Flower Pots of Cabo," the pots, not the plants (the forest, not the trees) are the subjects of the artist's worshiping eye.

From the sculpture contingent, there are pleasant eccentricities causing double takes, as with Richard Brinser's "Recomposition," looking like a disassembled table, with lathed limbs jutting out every which way but logical. Michael Sixby's "Bowel"--more attractive than its name implies--is a wood sculpture with twining forms suggesting entrails spiraling upward, as if freed from gravity's constraints.

In a more meditative direction, Normagene Robins' assemblage is a tidy play of opposites, contrasting a row of small stones with delicate pieces of paper suspended over them like ghost reflections.

Some oft-seen Ventura stalwarts show up, none the worse for their familiarity. To see the dynamic and mystical painting of Gerd Koch's "Wonders of the Vision-Egypt," or the tufted, post-impressionist landscape of Nicole Erd's "Dream Waves" helps to confirm the solidity of the locally based art pool.

As-yet lesser-known artists on the local gallery circuit spark interest, as well, including Pamela Vladyka-Venegas, whose painting "Travel Prague" manages to project both clarity and ambiguity. An intuitively rendered image of a painting of a subway train, it conveys both restless motion and subterranean atmosphere. Across the gallery and from another expressive world entirely is the mother-and-child imagery of George Medeiros' "Teia de Aranha, " all bright colors, and nods to Latin American tradition, folk art and Cubism.

In Christine Beirne's appealingly direct painting "Summer," the spur to expression is as simple as the sun flecked on the face of a young woman with eyes closed, as if in prayer or sun worship, or deep in a daydream. With "Wheat Fields," William S. Watt unabashedly amps up his Van Gogh-ishness in a painting of rural expanse fit to burst with yellow palette and psychedelic sky. It's a farm scene rendered like an upbeat fever dream.

These are a few of the favorite things I found at the show. Now I would like to see a close-up view of these aesthetics. Here in the gallery scene of late, it's getting a bit too crowded to think.


The 15th annual Juried Competition, through Oct. 14 at Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., in Ventura. Gallery hours: Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; 648-1235.

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

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