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Passageway to Art

Municipal gallery brings an impressive local collection to City Hall.

March 10, 2001|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Art has taken Ventura City Hall again. It has happened before in various ways, including the inspiring, but short-lived Third Floor gallery in the expansive upper area, which once housed a jail. Art has also hung on the walls of City Hall's second floor for years, under various auspices. But it often seemed like something of an afterthought, a way to decorate otherwise bland corridors.

That has changed this month, with the ceremonial rebirth of the renovated hallway gallery. More importantly, the gallery has been inaugurated with the exhibition of the new permanent "Municipal Art Collection," the proud result of an acquisition program that began in 1999. Every city with a cultural mandate should have one, and Ventura's collection is well on its way.

What we find in the current sampling is a solid, reliable swath of work from artists who have long been central to the local art scene. It's the kind of primer that could serve as a portal for the uninitiated. If, say, a visiting Iowan wanted to get a cursory fix on local artistic color, this would be a logical first stop. That it happens to be in a civic hallway that boasts a panoramic view is an added attraction.

There are obligatory inclusions, such as a double-handled urn with luster glaze by Ojai's Beatrice Wood, the legendary ceramist who died at age 104. Otto and the late Vivika Heino, fellow Ojai ceramic heroes, are also represented. So, thankfully, is the late Ojai photographer and "Grapes of Wrath" inspiring Horace Bristol, with "Joad Family Applying for Relief."

Where would a Ventura County art collection be without representation from the Botke family? Jessie Arms Botke's "Two White Peacocks with Flowers" is resplendent in gold leaf and plumage, in both its subject and its approach.

Photographer Donna Granata, who has done much to document and champion notable artists from Ventura County, shows a new portrait of mixed media artist Sally Weber. Surreal streaks of color, like a Technicolor rainbow, are overlaid across her face, a reference to Weber's love of color and unexpected media.

One of Ventura's finest painters, the former Ventura College professor Gerd Koch, is well-represented by "Mystical Places Where They Walked." In this rich painting, characteristic of Koch's aesthetic, abstraction locks gazes with landscape tradition, and both win out.

A distinctive sense of craft and image making comes through in Duane Simshauser's "Raven Reflecting," which relies on the artist's collage-meets-painting style to turn an image of a bird into something more metaphorical. Carlisle Cooper's own signature, composite style is on view with his "Proud Lady," and Meredith Brooks Abbott's "Oranges Against Shadows" appeals in the manner of her personal touch, in which landscape and still-life tradition is given a veneer of enigma.

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Other artists here show works that typify their ongoing interests. Hiroko Yoshimoto's "Yellow Rose for Teiko II" exemplifies her blend of design and real-world representation. Jane McKinney shows one of her beautifully oblique, dream world landscapes. And Carol Rosenak's "Chairs Series IV" is a charming photo-realist view of a room, tinged with cool, Zen-like observation.

Robert Engle offers his own sense of specifically local perspective with the painting "From Two Trees," a rough-hewn work from the vantage point of the famed hilltop landmark.

One of the most intriguing artworks on view here is John Nava's "Portrait of Kelley M. (with Mavis)." In this romantically dim-lit portrait, a woman is viewed in profile, her prim, aloof composure swaddled in the dark cocoon of her brown coat. A small, chocolate-brown dog (Mavis, we assume), sits at the foot of her chair staring at the viewer, exuding as much frank curiosity as her owner does detachment.

It's one of those striking paintings, realistically rendered and basking in tense elegance, that might stop casual visitors--out-of-towners or locals with City Hall business--in their tracks. That's a good thing.

DETAILS

"Municipal Art Collection," at Ventura City Hall, 501 Poli St.; 658-4768.

Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at joeinfo@aol.com

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