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Visions of Nature

Glendale exhibit ennobles plant, animal lives.

February 09, 2001|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mysteries of nature and the sanctity of animal spirits are a few of the common themes of the current show at the Brand Library in Glendale titled "Spirituality in Landscape, Man, and Animals."

Three artists--Barbara Gawronski, Myra Gantman and Margaret Wong--fit under the conceptual umbrella of the title, which gains meaning as one contemplates the art.

Gawronski's assemblage work resonates with irony and compassion through her materials and messages. A series of three plates present lovingly rendered close-up portraits of tiny creatures deserving greater respect in the animal kingdom. One is "To Honor the Birth of the Ant." The other plates similarly ennoble the spider and the bee.

Vacated shells of lowly snails are the focus in "Eternity." In "Holy Grail," fur-lined coconut shells contain tiny mirrors. "In Memory of the Dead Animals" presents itself as an earnest memorial to living creatures from flies to parrots to lizards. The pieces elaborately decked out in a display case evoke a certain subtle humor.

What is the proper response to another piece, titled--pun intended--"Holy S . . .," in which the key materials are a pine cone cradling bear scat? Probably a snicker yielding to a slower, deeper response: a reflection on the dignity of animal life and its byproducts and our systematic abuse of it.

Animals come in and out of focus in Gantman's mystical paintings. Continuing and evolving the series, which she showed at the Century Gallery a couple of years ago, Gantman began by featuring her departed Doberman in scenes of transcendence. That led to the inclusion of other animals that melt into dark, enigmatic spaces. In "Echoes #12," the dog is almost completely faded into the dark setting, reduced to a faint visual echo.

It's as if the subjects are in flux from a mortal plane to some vestige of the great beyond. At other times, the path could be leading in the other direction, as if to a womb's-eye view. In either case, life is in a fragile, transitional state.

Wong's cryptic landscapes are sometimes built up with paint to the point of containing ridges and tactile surfaces that suggest the qualities of landscape more than the imagery itself. She keeps her distance from direct references, titling her pieces with only the year and a number.

Nature rears her head in sometimes recognizable ways. The work "99-27" depicts a conspicuously veined leaf, writ large in a close-up, in contrast with the lonely leaf studies of "98-56" and "00-48." The variety of her work, along with the systematic titles, confer on her art a sense of process over product. We see that each individual piece is part of an ongoing series, as in nature, a story without clear beginning or end.

BE THERE

"Spirituality in Landscape, Man, and Animals," through Feb. 23 at Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St. in Glendale. Gallery hours: 1-9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 1-6 p.m. Wednesday, 1-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Call (818) 548-2051.

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