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The Far Side of Realism


For the first official exhibit of the new academic year at the Century Gallery, reality takes a bit of a holiday. The gallery, affiliated with Mission College and perched on the fringe of the San Fernando Valley in Sylmar, traditionally offers some of the more worthwhile art exhibitions in the area. Let the games begin.

In the current show, given the loose enough title "Ambiguous Images," three artists assume very different stances and rely on different media. What they have in common is playfully ambiguous intent, steering to the far side of realism without falling easily into specific idioms. In short, these images are not what they seem.

The work furthest removed from the corporeal, recognizable world is also drawn the most directly from that world. Robert Koss' black-and-white photographs go to great lengths to deny the medium's conventional claim to veracity. Instead, Koss toys with spatial illusions, throwing the issues of image and reality into question.

The imagery itself is all about texture and geometry, as conveyed through deliberately cropped photographs of carpeting. These images are cut into geometric shapes, and often mounted on blackboards cut into contrasting shapes. Fragments of text pop up in the form of signs, as in "Space Out," with the word "DRINK" seemingly triggering a stain seeping onto the image of a carpet.

Alternate modes of trickery occur in the fastidiously rendered collages of Roxanne Rockwell, whose pieces offer their own brand of art-within-art puzzles. From a distance, her works look like detailed enchanted-forest scenes. Up close, we see the almost fanatically intricate construction and virtuoso cut-and-paste job, as well as bizarre touches that suggest the stuff of dreams, or of an Oz-like fantasy land. In "Field of Frames" and "Framed Flowers," the appearance of gilded painting frames offers further giddy confusion. If frames can be considered external trappings in the practice of art, here, they are stirred into the art's content, with a knowing wink.

For his part, Walter Impert injects intrigue and a touch of foreboding into the everyday. His paintings depict corners of ominously lighted rooms, as if inhabited by obscure spirits. The origin of the apparitions is open to question. In most of the paintings, the recurring motif is a vodka bottle, amid children's playthings, art books, masks and candles, all of which could be viewed as metaphors as much as real objects in real space.

What we mostly get with Impert's work is a gentle tension between what is seen and what is perceived, via lighting and context. The usual artist's palette is at work, creating what are, indeed, wittingly ambiguous images.


"Ambiguous Images" through Sept. 23 at the Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar. Hours: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (818) 362-3220.

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