Forget bacchanals and noble warriors. Think jitterbug and freeway frenzy. Mildred Kouzel's monoprint and mixed-media images of Greek vases, on view along with sculptures by Barbara Magnus and paintings by Sandra Rowe at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Ana, offer a clutch of jokey themes that would have baffled the ancients.
The point, Kouzel says in a printed statement, is to explore "the ironies and analogies between modern and ancient culture." It's a clever idea that could be pushed a lot further. Right now, the artist is sticking with a simple, whimsical approach that doesn't really succeed in commenting more than superficially on two vastly different ways of life.
"Cloverleaf With Panorama" replicates a side view of a vase decorated with looping freeway arteries and the pale, vague images of rushing cars. "Fast Lane II" offers a look at a BC-era couple sitting bolt upright in a delicate chariot with prancing horses, picking their way across an overpass. Below, a car lies trapped in a ravine.
In "Greek Vase Interior, Venice," the vase decoration consists of a blond roller skater surrounded, like a singer in a '30s musical, by the anonymous gray silhouettes of fellow sidewalk cruisers.
A number of pieces in the show play with the notion of vases tilting and slicing apart as a result of the pounding beat of their painted dancing figures.
Kouzel's next step might be to refine some of the details (like the level of craftsmanship of the reliefs) and perhaps to reconsider the drawing style appropriate for each kind of image she uses (when a "Greek" horse turns its flanks in a way that only a Renaissance artist knew how to pull off, it spoils the charm of her theme). Then, it might be time for some deeper probings into those "ironies and analogies."
Barbara Magnus notes in her own printed statement that her three-dimensional pieces are "the result of a very deliberate construction process, yet they appear to be castoffs, casings or shed skins." But there's a fine line between believable and bric-a-brac in this sort of work, which only points up how hard it is to capture the artlessness of nature.
Her best piece in the show, "Inner Tube," does look convincingly like an abandoned husk of some living thing. Made of furrowed and gnarled black rice paper crisscrossed with fine nylon net, it droops weightlessly on the wall. But "Impending," a similar black piece with a red-painted interior that hangs from the ceiling, has the fussily deliberate presence of "decorator" art.
In "Mimas"--a small pearlized white husk of a vessel sitting on the floor next to a small squashed metal container lined with a bit of the same painted handmade paper--Magnus seems to have been trying to create a tiny universe of humble objects. It almost works, but somehow the materials and shapes don't sing together, and the resonance that should be there isn't.
Slight and undeveloped as they are, Sandra Rowe's tiny acrylic and pastel paintings in this show are an improvement over the undisciplined, emotionally short-circuited work she showed a couple of years ago at Chapman College. Most of the new pieces contain wobbly, sexless human silhouettes flung like rag dolls against loosely painted backgrounds. The effect is rather like a series of diagrams of undecipherable psychological states.
The artists' work remains on view through Feb. 5 at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 3621 W. MacArthur Blvd. (Harbor Business Park, Space 111) in Santa Ana. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission: Free. Information: (714) 549-4989.