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Ventura County Culture

Spinning Off Everyday Objects

Lis J. Schwitters' circular images, ranging from playful to mystical, find beauty in the banal.

January 17, 2002|JOSEF WOODARD | Special to the Times

In the artwork of Lis J. Schwitters, the scenery may be vaguely familiar, but the context has changed radically. A photographer and printmaker with a fondness for extending her media, she likes to take banal, everyday source materials and turn them into what she calls "cyanotype mandalas."

These are kaleidoscopic hyper-images that spin off the meditative tradition of Tibetan mandalas, using the blueprint-like cyanotype process. This roughhewn, low-tech process supports the artist's intrigue with early forms of Modernism, from Russian Constructivism to early 20th century photographic experiments. The works are full of visual echoes and a general sense of evoking both a suspension of reality and the creation of a new one.

Schwitters' work has been showing up around the county of late in various group shows, but seeing her current one-person show at Buenaventura Gallery, "Circular Visions of Ventura," is the best way to get familiar with her aesthetic mission.

Multiple hands appear as the source for "A Pledge of Allegiance," which then morphs into an image suggesting surreal and/or alien plant life. Sometimes, the transformations take bizarre turns, as with an image of orchids that, in its replicated form, suddenly looks bovine.

The work can dabble in optical trickery, as with "Demarcation Point," with road signs for the 101 and California Street, or "Inkblot Test #182," making the natural link between her work and Rorschach test blots. Things go from word-playful, as in the scrambled Scrabble effect of "Party Platter," to mystical, as in "The White Radiance of Eternity."

With this work, Schwitters is gamely toying with different ideas, blending photographic reproduction and mixed-media reconstruction. In short, she renders basic, concrete images abstract and hypnotic, but within her own tightly controlled parameters. Reality is kept on a rubbery tether.

* Lis J. Schwitters, "Circular Visions of Ventura," Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. Ends Feb. 2. Gallery hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (805) 648-1235.

Fledgling Talents: In what has become one of Ventura County's enduring, endearing annual traditions, January brings with it the celebration of the area's finest--and youngest--classical music talents. The New West Symphony's "Discovery Artists" concert, in Oxnard and Thousand Oaks this weekend, gives a handful of gifted students an opportunity to perform on a real stage with a professional orchestra.

There's history here, going back to the Young Artists Competition of the Ventura County Symphony. After that orchestra was merged into the New West, the program was extended and further developed, as a function of the New West's operations. In this weekend's program, the "Discovery Artist" roster includes clarinetist Richard Stone, soprano Jamie Franceshi, pianist Karine Poghosyan and piccolo player Laurel Schwartz. One alumna of the series, 13-year-old Katrina Celeste Bobbs, was heard on violin last year and returns on the piano this year.

By its nature, the program tends to be a broad sampler. The soloists will be tackling movements of works by Mozart, Ravel, Vivaldi, Puccini, Beethoven and others. On the orchestra front, the de facto New West Symphony will open the concert with Glinka's "Russlan and Ludmilla" overture, and, for the finale, they'll be joined by the New West Youth Symphony All-Stars for "The Great Gate of Kiev," from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

It's an all-around positive event. Besides being a chance to listen in on budding classical music talents from our midst, more generally it says something about the continuity of musical culture at a time when classical music is experiencing lean times.

* New West Symphony, "Discovery Artists"; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. $8 to $19. (800) NEW-WEST.

Still Alive and Well: The Rubicon Theatre Co.'s season continues this weekend with a trusty musical confection, "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well (and Living in Paris)." The piece, adapted by Eric Blau and Mort Schuman, celebrates the urbane wit of Brel. For this production, the principals are Amanda McBroom--Ojai's own, who wrote "The Rose"--and George Ball, who performed the cabaret-ish piece off Broadway.

Brel, the French Belgian singer-songwriter, influenced a wide array of performers, including David Bowie. This revue of his songs opened in 1968 in Greenwich Village, and Brel appeared in a film version in 1974. He died of lung cancer at the too-young age of 49, in 1978. The Brel myth continues, partly with the help of this revue.

* "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well (and Living in Paris)," Rubicon Theatre at the Laurel Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. Previews: Today and Friday, 8 p.m.; $23. Gala opening: Saturday, 7 p.m.; $150, benefiting San Buenaventura Foundation for the Arts, includes show and themed party with cast. Regular show times: Wednesdays to Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; $28 to $38. Ends. Feb. 17. (805) 667-2900. www.rubicontheatre.org.

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