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Photographer Opens Doors to 18th-Century Irish House

<i> Nilson writes regularly about art for Westside/Valley Calendar</i>

Even for a gallery that regularly exhibits contemporary photography, the show “Bonnettstown Hall Photographs"--on view at the Glenn-Dash Gallery through May 4--is unusual fare. True, the photographer, Andrew Bush, lives in Los Angeles. But his color photographs are from a more time-honored world.

Twelve years ago, Bush--then in his mid-20s and hitchhiking through Ireland on a journey inspired by James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and W.B. Yeats--encountered a retired Royal Navy officer named Cmdr. Geoffrey Marescaux de Saubruit. With the “casual generosity that is the norm for aristocrats,” Bush remembers, the commander invited the photographer to visit him at his home near Kilkenny if Bush was ever passing by again.

Bush took him up on his offer and thereby encountered Bonnettstown Hall, the 18th-Century house where the commander lived with three others, all in their 80s. Over the next three years, Bush stayed there off and on, growing close to the Bonnettstown residents and photographing the house--which had just been sold to a young family--in its frayed but personalized grandeur.

“I guess I was responding to my desperation--to the anxiety that I was feeling that this place was disappearing,” Bush said. “I guess I wanted to soak up as much as I could before it was gone.”

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In 1989, the photographs were published in the book “Bonnettstown: A House in Ireland,” which drew admiring reviews, in particular from The New Yorker’s photography critic, Janet Malcolm.

“What gives the photographs . . . their special lustre--and sets the book off from any other collection of pictures of domestic interiors--is the frank avowal that they make of their voyeurism,” Malcolm wrote. “Bush’s images have a kind of tentativeness, almost a furtiveness, like that of a child who is somewhere he shouldn’t be, seeing things he shouldn’t be seeing, touching objects he shouldn’t be touching and struggling with the conflict between his impulse to beat it out of there and his desire to stay and see and touch.”

Jack Glenn, co-owner of the Glenn-Dash Gallery, said the photographs were brought to his attention by a colleague in St. Louis who recently showed the work. Glenn said that at a time when so much photography takes the form of manipulated images, outsized prints, or art incorporating photography, Bush’s work suddenly seemed very unusual.

“It’s straightforward, old-fashioned, sentimental, luscious photography in color--but it goes beyond that because it becomes documentary and conceptual,” Glenn said.

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As for Bush, he is now doing different work on a much more Los Angeles-bound subject: He is making large photographs of strangers traveling in their cars by using a camera mounted in his own moving vehicle. The new work is represented in a group show called “Off the Beaten Track” that recently opened at the Security Pacific Gallery in Costa Mesa.

Bush sees nothing incongruous in the disparity between these two subjects. If anything, he views them as flip sides of the same coin.

“It’s a contrast in environments--it’s impossible for me to do anything without reflecting my sources of inspiration and sources of interaction,” Bush said, adding that in both cases his work remains essentially humanistic.

“I’m really concerned about anonymity and with its counterpart--knowing someone.”

“Bonnettstown Hall Photographs” by Andrew Bush through May 4 at the Glenn-Dash Gallery, 962 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 874-5161. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

BY WAY OF BEIRUT: Artists Seta Manoukian and Missak Terzian share a strikingly similar biography: Both were born in Lebanon of parents who had fled Soviet Armenia, and both gave up established art careers to come to the United States when the disruptions of civil war in Lebanon became too much to bear.

But the two had never met--until “Two From Beirut,” their two-person show at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery, brought them together.

“They have an almost identical history, but their work is very different,” Frumkin said. “The contrast between them was interesting.”

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In more ways than one, Frumkin said, Terzian had to start his entire career anew when he arrived in this country--the ship that was to have brought all of his paintings to the United States was blown up before it left the Lebanese harbor. Terzian, however, arrived safely with his family.

“Almost all of his paintings have to do with couples--so close that they melt into one another,” Frumkin observed.

Manoukian’s works are more conceptual. Among their recurring elements are stylized depictions of briefcase-toting men--who are shown horizontally suspended, not touching any ground.

“Having experienced yet another Diaspora because of my move to the United States, I am not certain anymore that it is national exile which causes me to continue depicting that element,” Manoukian told an interviewer for the Armenian magazine AIM.

“It could be the overall predicament of postmodern societies that I am portraying,” she continued. “Especially, in the context of recent developments in global affairs, I am questioning whether anyone has roots; how we ever had roots; what having roots means.”

“Two From Beirut: Seta Manoukian and Missak Terzian” through April 6 at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery, 1440 9th St., Santa Monica. (213) 393-1853. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m to 5 p.m.

ART WITH A VIEW: Its dramatic vista over the ocean remains the same, but through April 7 the art gallery at Pepperdine University in Malibu is also offering a different overview: an array of prints--many of them one-of-a-kind monotypes--by 14 members of the Los Angeles Printmaking Society.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever put together a print show of local artists,” said Bob Privett, gallery director and professor of art at the university.

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Privett said some 250 portfolios were reviewed for the exhibition, which was designed to provide a cross-section not only of printing techniques and styles but also of image and content. Quotes from the artists about their intentions and working methods are included in the show.

The techniques run the gamut from Dona Geib’s computer-generated prints and intaglio assemblages to Toby Willner’s experimentation with watercolor techniques in a mono-print. Content ranges from Efram Wolff’s color etching “Diner"--which the artist describes as “breakfast at 3 a.m. in a dive supported by a manufactured ring of Saturn"--to Joel Rothberg’s relief etching of the biblical Jacob wrestling with the angel.

“We are an educational gallery--our whole goal as we show work is to do something that will excite and stimulate the thinking of our students,” Privett said. “We want to fix it so that they have an opportunity to see firsthand interesting work by contemporary artists.”

The public is also invited.

“Prints at Pepperdine” through April 7 at the University Art Gallery, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (213) 456-4462. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.


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