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Doses of Diversity

Ventura College's galleries host intriguing works by three artists.

February 03, 2001|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Three artists showing at Ventura College galleries demonstrate the power of concentrated thought and variations on themes. In each case, diversity arrives in small, measured doses, within strict parameters established by the artists.

In Gallery Two, Kay Campbell and John Maul, teachers at Oregon State College in Corvallis, base their series of works on recurring motifs regarding houses and "post-industrial" hemispheres, respectively. Over in the New Media Gallery, Jim Heron's group of vaguely surreal "Cityscapes" teases the eye and massages the mind.

The meaning of house and home is at the core of Campbell's series of relief works. This exhibit is called "The Shell Game," a winking reference to both the protective shell of a dwelling and the street game in which passersby routinely lose money guessing which shell hides the coin. Her work is particularly memorable and striking, in part because of its inspired simplicity and subtle references. The viewer is cordially invited into the interpretive loop, to draw conclusions and inferences according to taste.

A common gold-painted frame, in the archetypal shape of a gable-roofed house, becomes a container for a range of different materials and textures--and potential meanings. Always, a sense of formal restraint and visual beauty remains in check, even as we are led to various impressions about the elusive nature of what home is.

Different facades bring with them reflexive responses. Rusty spikes and nails could mean a trap or a barrier against intrusion, while the open-air quality of mesh netting suggests lightness of being.

Paradoxically, we read a frame packed with rough cement in terms of both solidity and repression, while a rusty metal slab is at once a symbol of decay and of a sort of lived-in, well . . . rusticity.

The milky sensuality of beeswax with sticks and another of beeswax with lapidary stones evoke an accord with nature, perhaps a feng shui kind of thing. Another piece, filled with beeswax and bones signals a comforting animal presence, and also more than a hint of mortality. Campbell's art here asks to be appreciated for both its immediate visual, tactile appeal and also its healthy swirl of metaphorical possibilities.

Maul's carefully placed set of sculptures, made from cast aluminum, present four rough-hewn contraptions surrounding one sleek bronze piece, "Copernicus Discovers Saturn," in the middle. Together, they make various, cryptic references to anatomical and cosmic spheres, and what the artist calls, in a statement, "post-industrial holocaust fantasy."

There is a different kind of aesthetic game going on over in the New Media Gallery, where architect/artist Jim Heron's colorful "Cityscape" paintings playfully intertwine the real and the imaginary. On one level, Heron deploys a plainly abstracting strategy. These are faux city scenes, in which zig-zagging, cross-hatching lines and planes, and the parallel world of shadows they create, tickle the senses.

But we read them as vaguely urban images, crowded, polyrhythmic spaces where clashing designs and stressed psychology lurk. Heron, whose architectural persona comes out in drawing board calculations and linear amusements, sometimes uses Escher-esque geometric illogic, with angles and spatial dimension that don't make sense. But such elements of visual trickery are softened by a palette of soft hues and gently mottled textures.

It's a happy city, free of human traffic or apparent worry. Reality checks are moot.

This is the final exhibition of artists from outside the area, in this scholastic season at Ventura College. Next up are a collage group show and a student awards show later in the spring. Again, as before, Ventura College provokes thought and intrigue with its gallery programming. It's well worth a trip and a good look.

DETAILS

Kay Campbell, John Maul, "Mixed Media," and James Heron, "Ideal Cities," through Feb. 23 at Ventura College, 4667 Telegraph Road; Call gallery for hours; 648-8974.

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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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