"Nature Paintings and Drawings" by Janet Cooling at the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park is a curatorial oddity. The exhibition consists of six works that have never before been seen in San Diego, where the artist has established a strong reputation for herself with expressive, high-key color diptychs of animals in the wild and portraits of women.
The paintings and drawings at the Natural History Museum, dating from 1981 to 1983, are like a visual regression. The earliest paintings of birds and water appear to be simple, even "naive," copies of nature illustrations. A stylized drawing of animals is rather like an adaptation of paleolithic art for children's room wallpaper.
With two works from 1983, we recognize the vision of the maturing artist we admire. One juxtaposes drawings of a palm in pink and a pelican in pencil. The other, pairing a timorous rabbit with a howling coyote--beautifully painted, dispassionate images of victim and predator--is the link to the works already seen and highly praised in San Diego.
The exhibition--curated by David Reutter, responsible for an outstanding series of shows linking art and natural history during the past year--is educational in terms of the artist's personal iconography and painting skill rather than as a high aesthetic experience. It does not enhance her reputation but demonstrates that she has come a long way since 1981.
The show, an effective use of artistic materials in a scientific environment, continues through March 23.
The new show at The Art Corner Gallery in the Standard Brands Paint and Home Decorating Center (939 16th St.) features paintings by Haase W. Wojtyla and polychrome, or painted, sculptures by Joe Nyiri.
Wojtyla's subjects are women in showers and baths and threatening beasts (dogs and men), sometimes, as in "Night Stalkers," with blood dripping from their jaws. The artist's skills in composing and painting his expressive, distorted figurative works considerably mitigate the impact of their grim content.
Nyiri's sculptures, made of geometric, machine-tooled metal parts combined with natural materials like bone and horn, most titled "Tibetan Altars," are not seen to advantage in this crowded installation and in conjunction with the strong works of Wojtyla.
Nevertheless, it is terrific to see provocative works of a certain quality made accessible to the public in a popular environment.
The show continues through April 20.
The show at the Knowles Gallery (7422 Girard Ave., La Jolla) exemplifies an "International Style" of decorative painting.
Both artists represented, Paul Cohen and Mavis Parker, are from London, but they could be from anywhere else in the Western world--Sydney, Paducah or Montevideo.
Cohen's "Chronicles of American life . . . bold statements in oil on canvas, approached with biting honesty or unexpected humor," as described in Knowles Gallery publicity, are brushy, figurative images with a fashionably punkish bite to them. They do not enhance Anglo-American art relations.
Parker's "vibrant interior paintings on paper expressing optimism and (redundantly) hope through brightly patterned flowers and figures" brighten a gloomy day momentarily.
"Two Artists From London" continues through April 2.
"Java," a coffeehouse-gallery, has opened downtown at 837 G St.
Owned and operated by Dr. Doug Simay and arts activist Stanley Fried, the space is unusual in offering exhibitions of works from Simay's outstanding collection, largely representing artists from the area. Patrons will be able to enjoy works of art of consistent quality, such as a drawing by Manny Farber, a print by Raul Guerrero, a small relief by Ron Williams and a painting by Ernest Silva now on exhibition.
An entire window on 9th Avenue is given to the eccentric art furniture of David Fobes, who created the elegant tables and counter at Java.
In early April, Java will initiate the presentation of readings. Fried has said of the coming program: "We'll focus on experimentation in a non-critical environment. The space is small, so the works have to be intimate. The program will be for artists involved with works in progress who want to get an audience reaction without subjecting themselves as yet to professional criticism."
Simay will rotate works from his extensive collection in exhibitions he will curate. Java is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.