It was just another early Saturday night in the relatively sedate burg of downtown Ventura. Club hoppers geared up for a night of lurching. People milled around with that mid-weekend idleness, going nowhere special, with a purpose.
But another crop of folks filtered onto the streets on this night, a coffee-addled bunch wandering the streets like nervous zombies, looking for art and free joe. It was time for another Ventura Art Walk. The idea was simple and twofold: to showcase old town art spaces--as previous city-sponsored Art Walk events have--but with coffee added into the mix. Numerous coffeehouses that have sprung up around Ventura in the last year participated in the newly christened “Java Jump” by freely dispensing various flavors to the public.
As in previous events, the latest Ventura Art Walk succeeded in reminding us that Ventura has energetic cultural sub-currents, and more artistic activity than might initially meet the eye. To say the art on display represented a mixed aesthetic is to understate the obvious.
This point was plain to anyone who, for instance, stopped by Art City II to see sTeVe Knauff’s video-centric maze of an installation and then on to the calm historical exposition of local Portuguese culture at the Ventura Museum of History and Art. Anyone who descended into the subterranean Orifice Gallery and then moved on to sample the tamer stuff at the Buenaventura Gallery knows the meaning of variety.
And vive la difference ! Nothing like a not-so leisurely, art-consuming stroll to get a picture of what the scene is like.
Things were hopping over at the Livery Arts Center, where various performance and dance activities were occurring at the Performance Studio. Meanwhile, coffee heads gravitated toward Cafe Voltaire.
Michael Kelly, who seems to be the artist-in-residence at the Voltaire, is showing some interesting new work, along with paintings by John Shippey and sculpture by Matt Harvey, in a show called “Color & Form.”
In Kelly’s vivid paintings, ancient iconography echoes the patterns of graffiti art and other contemporary-primitive strategies. Kelly strives to make a connection between Eurocentric art ideals and ancient culture.
Also in the Livery, the Momentum Gallery featured stone lithograph work by a diversified trio of Ventura College students. Janet Blevins depicts cuddly animals, and Laura Gallardo presents dreamy erotic figures. Robert Martinez goes for the vein of graphic surrealism popularized by M.C. Escher. Martinez’s fondly rendered but gaunt portrait of Escher is the finest piece in the gallery.
Of all spots on the Art Walk, Nicholby’s offered perhaps the most multifarious experience between coffee, liquor, pool tables and some art worth looking at. The artists showing here deal in figurative work depicting half-cooked humanity--as if the subjects have had too much coffee, liquor and/or pool.
Catherine Day’s figures tend to be smudged and swollen, discolored either from too much passion or oxygen deprivation. Sometimes, it’s not clear whether they’re locked in embrace or mortal combat. Things turn gruesome with “Marinated Tenderloin,” a dinner table setting with a naked, emaciated figure in the soup.
Julie Dahl’s gallery of everyday grotesques are slathered with thick swipes of paint, their angles slightly twisted and their flesh sometimes given that Lucien Freud-esque mortal pallor. Her series here, under the title “Lost in the Funhouse,” portrays woozy revelers in close-up, caught up in the dizzy haze of hedonism.
Seeing these paintings amid the elbow-bending billiards players and the nightclub atmosphere is entirely fitting.
Some of the best art spaces on the tour were off the beaten path. You wound your way upstairs to Nicholby’s, and down to find the Orifice, Ventura’s most decentrally located gallery. Literally underground, beneath the Medusa Hair Salon, the Orifice is a promising venue, housing a show by the fledgling new artist’s organization, the Ventura Artist’s Union.
As you walk through a twisting passageway lined with walls of figurative sketches and corrugated metal, Eric Richards’ life-size “Birdfeeder,” a rusty metal nude with bird-feeder attached, serves as the greeter. Getting to the art is part of the appreciation process.
Art of various types is scattered throughout the gallery, from the animalia of Lane Rowell’s sedate lithographs of fowl and Paul Lindhard’s “Baboon” to Joe Cardella’s xerography, Richard Peterson’s sociopolitically charged work, and Eric Richards’ surreal painting, “Third World Door,” in the heart of the gallery.
In 3-D, we find Hiroko Yoshimoto’s vibrant wing-shaped canvas piece and M.B. Hanrahan’s elaborate “Reality of the Unreal.”
Over at Eternal Comforts, the casket and urn emporium, the art shown this time around was much calmer than the apparitional figures of Paul Berchan that were last on view. This time, watercolorist Sue Woods provided the pretty pictures, mostly generic landscapes.
But the main attraction there was just the peculiar experience of looking at art among these shiny, unused resting places, including a plain pine casket--the deconstructionist model.
All roads on the Art Walk led, appropriately, up to the gallant old Ventura City Hall edifice. There, a swarming crowd gathered while a full moon shone overhead, illuminating the town below.
A raffle was held, official bon mots offered, and some offbeat music was performed in the atrium until after midnight. Next to the “stage” area, the looming wooden sculpture of Padre Junipero Serra seemed to look away from the stage disapprovingly.
All in all, for better or worse--mostly better--it was a Ventura thing.
* Michael Kelly, John Shippey and Matt Harvey at Cafe Voltaire, 34 N. Palm St.; 641-1743.
* Janet Blevins, Laura Gallardo, and Robert Martinez at the Momentum Gallery, 652-2320.
* Catherine Day and Julie Dahl at Nicholby’s Upstairs, 404 Main St.; 653-2320.
* Group show by the Ventura Artist’s Union at the Orifice, 752 E. Main St.; 655-7892.
* Sue Woods at Eternal Comforts, 1744 E. Main St.; 643-1060.