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Tour Offers a Glimpse Into the Worlds of 30 Valley Artists


This weekend, participants can get an inside look at how art is made in the San Fernando Valley during a Valley Artists Studio Tour.

Although no one would confuse Van Nuys with Van Gogh's Arles, the Valley is home to scores of talented visual artists, said Louise Lewis, director of the Art Galleries at Cal State Northridge.

Artists are attracted to the Valley for the same reason many others are--because it's close to their jobs and more affordable than much of the Westside, Lewis said. But affordability isn't the only attraction.

"There are artists out here who enjoy being able to have a little bit of landscape around them," she said. And while many artists are drawn to the high-ceilinged lofts of downtown Los Angeles and such artists' enclaves as the San Gabriel Valley's Arroyo Seco and Santa Monica's Ocean Park, she said, "some like it out here for the anonymity and being able to work on their own."

Thirty Valley artists will open their studios, said Susan Bennett, 50, an artist on the board of the Valley Cultural Center. The center is co-sponsoring the tour with the San Fernando Valley Arts Council.

Bennett said that the Valley tour is modeled on a similar annual event in Ojai, whose resident artists long included the late ceramicist Beatrice Wood.

"Out in Ojai they've done it for 25 years," Bennett said.

About 80 artists submitted samples of their work for this weekend's tour, which organizers hope will become an annual event.

The artists vary widely in style and media, and in how they live and work. Jodi Bonassi, whose paintings often feature local shops, works in the living room of her Canoga Park home. Lynn Creighton, a sculptor of female figures, has a separate studio near the pool on her large Northridge property.

Brian Spellman, who does architectural paintings in black, white and gray, works in his one-bedroom apartment in Reseda. And Western artist Robert Perrin has a studio in his Northridge garage.

Artist Tonie Michael was discovered by fellow painter Trice Tolle while Michael was living in a cardboard shanty near the Van Nuys Airport. Michael's contemporary canvases are on display at Blue Skies Aviation flight school at the airport.

Each artist has one work on exhibit at the West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave. in Canoga Park.

The public may view them at no charge today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tickets for the tour are available at the theater for $25. Ticket holders will be given a self-guided tour map with the locations of the artists' studios, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

A reception will be held at the theater at 6 p.m. today.

The artists will determine the sale price of their work, ranging from about $50 to $20,000.

"My stuff's going to be dirt cheap because I want it to move," said Bennett, whose work includes black-and-white photos on botanical and architectural themes hand-tinted with pastels.

Visual artists often work at colleges and universities to put food on the table and pay for materials. Noted environmental artist Kim Abeles is on the Cal State Northridge faculty. The late painter and printmaker Milton Hirschl, subject of a recent one-man show at the Skirball Cultural Center, taught for almost 40 years at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

The San Fernando Valley has inspired artists as well as sheltered them. Noted California Impressionist William Wendt painted the hills that surround the Valley, and the Sepulveda Dam is the subject of a striking Depression-era painting by Edward Biberman.

Prominent Valley-based artists include painter Robert Williams and textile artist Stephanie Plaut.

Perhaps the artist most identified with the Valley is Jeffrey Vallance. Until he moved to Las Vegas in 1995, Vallance lived, worked and exhibited in his childhood home in Canoga Park.

Vallance's oeuvre includes an ambitious piece centering on a frozen chicken he bought at a Valley supermarket and christened "Blinky, the Friendly Hen." In the mid-1980s, he did a series of drawings called "Avenue of the Absurd" that documented such West Valley landmarks as the Calabasas pet cemetery where Blinky is interred.

In an 1995 interview, Vallance complained that he could get European collectors to Canoga Park, but not Westsiders.

Many Valley-based artists say nothing has changed. "They pretty much know that if they want to be known, they have to work the larger L.A. scene," Lewis said.

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