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GALLERY NOTES : Barbara Weldon: New Restraint : More powerful palette for ‘Mara Series’ at the Thomas Babeor Gallery serves the painter well.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cleansed of its former cosmetic beauty, Barbara Weldon’s new work bares a fresh, honest, more serious and more appealing face.

Her “Mara Series,” now on view at the Thomas Babeor Gallery (7470 Girard Ave., La Jolla, through Dec. 24) shows a new restraint from the decorative gratuitousness that characterized much of the local artist’s earlier paintings and collages.

Gone--or at least nearly--are the synthetic, lipstick colors and predictable designs of previous work. Gone also are the triteness of a recent series of watercolor collages based on the artist’s travels and the stiff expressionism of another recent group of abstract paintings on the theme of dance. These contrivances are replaced here by a more organic palette and an integrity of purpose that breathes life into even the sparest of compositions.

The “Mara Series” was inspired by Weldon’s visit to the Masai Mara region of East Africa two years ago.

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Responding to the area’s geography and culture, Weldon scraped away the finicky formulas she had long abided by and began to speak in a more primal tongue. The language of hieroglyphic symbols and earthen colors she adopts here is one that can’t be read literally, but is sensed viscerally.

One of the smaller works on paper, “Mara 67,” which measures 30 by 22 inches, epitomizes this powerful palette and rich, raw imagery. Here, Weldon paints in the colors of blood and bone, layering her tones to a luminous intensity. A shield-like form in burnt red floats against a deep ivory ground, its contours dissolving into the surface like fine, loose threads. Simple symbols--circles, lines, triangles and X’s--cover the face of the shield shape. These, and the spirals, fish and other basic forms that appear throughout the “Mara Series” allude not only to the primacy of the elements and the forces of nature but to a system of communication and ordering in which symbols truly bear the weight of beliefs.

The surfaces of Weldon’s larger paintings on paper and canvas, which measure nearly 4 feet square, are divided into grids. Each square of the grid contains a single hieroglyphic, and in each painting a large, overlaid shape adds dimension to the flat patterns and alters the painting’s tones.

Though these larger works haven’t the concentrated energy of the smaller paintings on paper, they, too, reflect the artist’s bold move toward more meaningful, less obvious beauty.

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Mexican painter Rodrigo Pimentel selected the following statement by Octavio Paz to introduce his current show at the Iturralde Gallery (7592 Fay Ave., La Jolla, through Sunday): “As long as we live we can escape neither masks nor names and pronouns: We are inseparable from our fictions--our features. We are condemned to invent ourselves a mask and to discover afterward that the mask is our true face.”

Pimentel’s visual incisiveness may not always equal Paz’s way with the word, but the artist does offer some engaging commentary of his own on the theme of appearance and identity.

Works in his “Carnival” series range from vibrant images of animals and people to more metaphoric portraits of the rift dividing internal and external realities. Pimentel is at his most provocative when exploring the latter, more complex nature of the self.

Among his most engaging paintings are “Los Primeros” (The First Ones) and “Sorpresa” (Surprise). In “Los Primeros,” perhaps the most subtle, subdued work in the show, Pimentel paints a face splayed into thirds. Black, gold and soft browns replace his usual heated palette, but an electric vein of blue skids through the image, jolting this portrait of multiple, shifting identities to life.

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In “Sorpresa,” Pimentel shows a man removing a mask from his face. The shock comes from reversed expectations. The mask, of a jaguar’s head, is elegant, refined, while the man’s face is wild and beast-like, with a nose twisted like a golden horn, eyes askew and teeth like a jagged comb.

Pimentel is exuberant in his depiction of carnival behavior, but he also hints of the seriousness of the game. Like Paz, he asserts that the act of concealing is also one of revealing, that even the most flamboyant masquerade is an honest statement of identity.

The San Diego Museum of Art has scheduled presentations by three notables in the arts for its annual series, “Balboa Lectures: Arts and Letters.”

Today, writer Mary Lynn Kotz will speak about her upcoming book, “Rauschenberg: Art and Life.” John Marion, chairman of the auction house Sotheby’s North America, will deliver a talk titled “Current Trends in the Art Market” on Jan. 17. The final lecture will be given by Thomas Armstrong III, former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, on Jan. 24. Armstrong’s talk is titled “Patronage Patterns: The Director’s Dilemma.” For ticket information, call the museum at (619) 232-7931.

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