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A Fresh Take on Some Very Familiar Places

'Buena! Ventura' paints the town red. Also on tap: Shakespearean romance and Peter and Wendy.


One might well expect good, pun-some cheer from an exhibition of paintings called "Buena! Ventura," Susan Cook's current show of landscape paintings and other friendly subjects at the Buenaventura Gallery.

She deals with mostly local scenery, of the natural and urban variety, and tosses in the odd close-up portrait of a cow's mug (in "Wheeler Canyon Dweller") and a lounging surfer. Nothing out of the realm of the pleasant so far.

What sets her work apart from the garden-variety genres she applies herself to is a blend of artistic effects and mannerisms, which keep giving her imagery a dark intrigue. Her compositions are just slightly askew, her brusque brushwork leans away from details and edges of things, even flirting with abstraction at times. Most conspicuously, her scenes have an oddly warm, irradiated, reddish cast to them, as if processed through red and orange filters.

It's not always clear what the intended effect of this stylization is. In paintings of area road-scapes, like "Chestnut and Main" and "101 at California St.," the red-bathed views evoke some kind of surreptitious surveillance, or at least a voyeur's fleeting gaze. An orderly procession of palm trees is the primary subject of "Highway 150," but they are folded into the dense thicket of color surrounding them, giving the viewer a concentration of data to process.

Is Cook's goal to impose unexpected psychological layers on the everyday? Is she wielding her palette in a sneaky Expressionist manner, in an approach akin to the German "Der Blaue Reiter" school of Expressionists? Wherever the artist is coming from, she gives us a fresh take on places and things we think we know and raises questions, worthy ends in themselves.

* Susan Cook's "Buena! Ventura" exhibition, Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. Ends Saturday. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (805) 648-1235.


Bard Lore at 20: The Ojai Shakespeare Festival kicks off its 20th season this weekend in Libbey Park.

The main production is "Twelfth Night," with its intricate roundelay of sexual and romantic interests. John Slade directs, and the cast includes Richard Winterstein, Julie Christensen and Paul Backer. A second production, of "The Tempest," will star festival interns and will be directed by Ryan Lee.

* Ojai Shakespeare Festival, "Twelfth Night," Libbey Bowl, downtown Ojai. Saturday-Aug. 18, Fridays through Sundays at 8 p.m. $15 and $18 for adults, $8-$14 for senior citizens and students, free for children 5-12. (805) 646-9455.

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