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Deep Marks

Sylmar show offers four views on essential act of the visual artist.


The premise of the current group show at the Century Gallery is so basic, it's deep. "Marks Expanded" brings together four artists who offer variations on the essential act of the visual artist, which is making marks on a surface and calling it art.

That most primal of gestures has been subject to constant change and questioning, not only since the onset of Modernism, but from the earliest rumblings of art history. Questions arise when we start to analyze the grammar of art-making and mark-making. When does representation stop and the artist's expressive impulse begin? Where is the border between figure and ground?

In Karen Ross' work, splattering bursts of ambiguous imagery in watercolor sit comfortably against white backdrops, with free-handed black lines serving as structural foundations. Allusion to Japanese art is plain to see in all its elegant simplicity and sense of space. Yet we're also tempted to read the multicolored blots as Freudian signposts, a reflex the artist may not have intended.

The marks in Liliana Stravitz' work push outward from the flat picture plane, inching toward sculptural thinking. In otherwise fairly traditional and pleasant abstract compositions, she uses natural materials--sand, gravel, tree bark--to render her work exotic. The gestural marks in her compositions, as with "Copper Connection," might be a tree limb wrapped in copper wire and tethered to a tiny IC board on a bed of gravel. It sounds outlandish but apart from its material, it is disarmingly polite.

In this company, the "straightest" art in the show is by Vera Armand, whose abstract paintings reportedly draw on the influence of music, that classic role model of abstract behavior. To run with the musical analogy, her canvases sport harmonies of color, line and shape, engaged in amorphous dances, not always gracefully but with determination.

Despite the attempt to connect the dots between them, each artist sticks to a private corner in terms of personal style. No one else in the gallery, for instance, has quite the textural agenda of Manuel Torosyan, whose mixed-media works on paper are densely packed, layered with patterns that appear contemplative on first impression.

Closer inspection reveals that God visits the details. Intricate variations reveal a careful handiwork, and we even find disguised hints of figures in modestly carnal positions. Or is that just the viewer's overactive imagination faced with the task of reading meaning into marks?


"Marks Expanded," through Nov. 4 at the Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar. Hours: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, noon-4 p.m. (818) 362-3220.

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