Devastation of Atomic Warfare Pervades at 2 Exhibits

Two current group shows, one at the David Zapf Gallery and one at Southwestern College, each bring together three local artists. Drawing is the artists’ common medium at the Zapf Gallery, while at Southwestern the artists share little in style, medium or meaning.

Purely by coincidence, however, the single, strongest body of work at each of the two shows has the same, specific theme as that in the other--the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mario Uribe’s drawings, at David Zapf, are passionate and personal interpretations, while Mari Omori’s at Southwestern, are cool and analytical, but both artists summon anew the awe and horror evoked by the first use of atomic warfare.

Uribe’s seven drawings, part of the show, “Black + White + Color” (David Zapf Gallery, 2400 Kettner Blvd, through Dec. 8), form the beginning of his continuing series, “If We Go to War.” With hundreds of thousands of troops at the ready in the Persian Gulf right now, Uribe’s series makes a plea for the United States not to repeat devastating actions of the past. The series takes the form of a narrative, a chronicle of fragments that tells of a larger, more universal whole.

“Just Before the Bomb Hit,” the first drawing, shows a nude woman from the back, all skin and sensuous shadow. Then, “The Landscape Exploded,” and “All That Remained Was a Faint Outline.” The same woman appears again, in the same posture but an altered state. She is there, yet not there, an imprint in space, but no longer a being of flesh and blood.


In “I’ll Never Forget the Look on Her Face,” she has lost her tranquil beauty and become a grotesque mask, dark, flat, with gaping ovals for eyes and mouth. “The Ones That Remained Were Not the Same as Before,” Uribe titles the next image of the woman, a hunched-over figure of harsh, black lines.

Uribe then shifts his attention to the perpetrators of this violent transformation and finds them entirely removed from the pain of the nameless Japanese woman. He titles an exterior view of an American diner, “In a Place Far Away, Life Goes On,” and a more intimate, interior image of a seated couple, “Their Lives Are Not Affected.”

In this series, Uribe works his charcoal with an intensity and wide range of expression, coaxing it into a deep, dark, infinite black or caressing it into a gray soft as skin. This work comes as something of a surprise as Uribe’s work in the public eye--his murals for the Ramada Inn downtown and the stadium--are as small in ambition as they are large in scale, and give no clue of the poetic potency he proves himself capable of here.

Omori, who was born in Japan and now teaches at San Diego State University, approaches the psychic and physical devastation of the bombings with a cool but not dispassionate eye. She covers most of her graphite drawings in the “Black Rain” series with persistent strokes of gray, suggesting both the literal radioactive fallout and the bleak darkness in the world after such destruction has taken place.


In such a morally blank world, new order must be imposed, and Omori suggests the process of restructuring with a variety of grids, numerical and pictographic patterns. The logic of these numbers and characters proves inadequate, however, against the all-consuming gray of the chasm created by the bombings.

In these drawings, hung like scrolls, with their bottom edges gently curling inward, Omori visualizes the historical turning point of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the sense that life before has been blotted out and life after continues somewhat numbly. Omori’s series has a stark, meditative power and, like Uribe’s, its underlying “never again” appeal comes at a highly opportune time.

The two other artists in the Southwestern show (900 Otay Lakes Road, Chula Vista, through Dec. 14) present consistent, albeit uninspiring bodies of work. Harley Gaber sets kitsch ceramic figurines in boxes and platforms of black painted wood with a nod toward the surreal admixture of whimsy and despair. The raw material for a charged statement is there, but Gaber’s constructions feel too glib and too much the same to have any enduring impact.

Derek McGarry’s “Re-Constructions” invite the viewer to sculpt, shape and order space. Black and red metal pieces in a variety of geometric shapes are left on free-standing, felt-covered platforms for gallery visitors to arrange, while McGarry’s own finished designs are framed on the walls. The exercise is enjoyable, but uninspiring.

David Zapf’s show features two other artists as capable as Uribe but more benign in their choice of subject matter. Eugenie Geb’s drawings, of decaying pumpkins and country landscapes, are moody and marvelously rendered. The reminder of human mortality haunts all of her works, imbuing them with metaphoric possibilities as pronounced as their meticulous beauty.

Janet Cooling’s colored pencil and acrylic drawings are unintentionally deceptive. They appear to be innocent, illustrative visions of wild animals in equally wild and vibrantly hued landscapes, but Cooling aims not just to glorify nature but to defend it against forces driving it to destruction. The images in her “Quiet Apocalypse” series are too quiet on this latter point. They represent a natural world very much alive, immune from the ominous forces described in the artist’s accompanying statement, where nature is described as both “the last frontier and a battleground for the industrial world.”