SIGHTS : Bold Paintings Give Form to Abstraction : Reyna Castano’s works at Conejo Art Museum are reflective but gregarious. Colors convey differing intensities of light.


With her bright, boldly realized paintings, Mexican artist Reyna Castano creates a vivid visual world. In it, bristling energy merges with--and sometimes scrapes against--a kind of meditative buzz.

Castano’s ample show at the Conejo Art Museum in Thousand Oaks reveals an aesthetic that is surprisingly mature for a 30-year-old artist. But then, her studies did include dance and architecture, and influences of both disciplines are evident in her work.

If Castano’s byword is abstraction, the results are anything but cerebral or rarefied. These paintings are reflective but also gregarious, highly textured--sometimes rough and tactile, like stucco--and, in the end, easy to love.

Hers is an abstract language, with converging colors and forms bathed in different intensities of light, which relate ambiguously to landscape and the figure. Lines dissect shapes that float on cloudy washes of color.

At times, representational interpretations are invited. Is that a cubist-altered canine in “Expectation”? The title of “Fruit Bowl” gives us some way of understanding the splashes of bright red and gold-leafed gaudiness.


Interior states of unrest are manifested in such works as “The Wound,” with its blood drips amid murky greens and blacks, or in “Prognosis of the Storm.” The large, horizontal piece taking up one wall, “Axioma V.” is about the tension between opposing forces--sedimental activity framing, almost choking, a central red outburst.

“Juegos de Astucia” is laid out as a rectangular grid pattern, drawn with a rough, hands-on simplicity. Variations in texture and density of paint give it a nearly topographical surface.

Contrasting with her other, more clearly resolved images, “Sentimientos Ocultos” is scruffier, with forms and relationships left unfinished. To good effect, Castano here shows a more assertive, jagged-edged attack on the canvas, with fervid swipes of paint instead of carefully built-up composite images.

Art history enters into Castano’s pictorial sense--specifically modes of painting from the American abstract Expressionist school, and strains in Latin American art. That the work looks like something from the pre-Conceptual, pre-Pop, pre-Minimal days of the ‘50s is refreshing.

You can see in her work shades of abstract Expressionist Arshille Gorky’s quasi-organic blobs, especially in “The Fury.” Cubist ideas of planar redistribution are in full force here. But these art world links are tempered by an appealing earthiness that suggests a kind of happy marriage of visceral painting-for-painting’s-sake with a more academic awareness of precedents.

There is something gently mystical in her art. Castano manages to find a path between extroversion and introspection, exploring the visual-metaphorical friction between color and form. And, to boot, she’s found a look worth looking at.


During the last week of June, visitors to the Camarillo State Hospital were treated to the annual display of work from the Art Therapy program. As usual, the event revealed the kind of work, at once innocent and turbulent, that has made this show one of the unusual highlights of the county’s art scene.

These exhibitions invariably offer the viewer an enlightening glimpse into aesthetic expressions from alternative points of view. They also demonstrate, by example, the virtues of the therapy program here.

But this year’s show--which included work from the Camarillo Hospital as well as other mental health services around the county--was less exclusive an opportunity than before, thanks to the recent opening of the Art Life Gallery. This regular gallery space, in the heart of the hospital in Unit 16, provides a continuing venue and public interface for the patient-artists.

At the recent annual show, which closed July 2, common themes emerged as in years past. Artists are identified by first names to protect privacy. Abstract paintings, mostly of the drip-and-splatter school, lived happily alongside cartoon figures (including Robert S.'s Elmer Fudd and Paul B.'s Bart Simpson), hearts and religious imagery.

Patrick’s “Sweepstake Winner” depicts an automobile, proudly gleaming, viewed as an object of almost religious significance.

Some of the more striking work stemmed from bold simplicity. Gidget M.'s “Green in the Night” finds an amorphous animal figure swimming in sinister blackness, and Noah T.'s “In the Pink” finds a vague face-like form, pink and blue, swirling in chocolate brown: It’s a face in the ooze.

Viewers might see the abstract works here as Rorschach results, signifying deeper-set psychological conditions. A.T.P. has gone straight to the source with his own “Rorschach” blot. To these eyes, it looks like a menacing, conniving feline from the cartoon domain.

Natural forces rendered symbolic and haunting seem to be at the root of Chris R.'s “Black Hole Blaze"--a dichotomy of raging fire and a mysterious vacuum. Connie’s “Dark Rainbow” is just that: terraced bands of color on the darkest end of the spectrum, rather than the typical radiance associated with a rainbow.

And then, on campier terrain, there is Martin P.'s “Country Singers,” a C&W; fan’s sketchbook of portraits of his favorite singers--Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Buck Owens--all looking roughly the same, with the same dreamy look in the eyes.

What makes much of this art so fascinating is freshness of perspective, a rare thing in this age of info overload and homogeneity of experience. These images seem to come from out of the blue, while also floating in an ether of uncommon sincerity.


* CASTANO: “Light and Color from Mexico: Reyna Castano,” through July 17 at the Conejo Art Museum, 193-A N. Moorpark Road (in the Janss Mall) in Thousand Oaks; 373-0054.

* HOSPITAL: Life Gallery at Camarillo State Hospital, 1878 Lewis Road, inside Unit 16; 484-3661, Ext. 4216.