SIGHTS : Show Blends Kitsch With Serious Works : From simple to complex, rough to gentle, the Buenaventura competition provides an overview of local art, in all its beauty and variety.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As a reliable field report on the state of regional art, the Buenaventura Art Assn.'s annual juried competition may take the prize--at least in terms of democracy in action.

The exhibition, filling the Buenaventura Gallery with all manner of aesthetics, attitudes and aptitudes, is nothing if not every which way. Pretty pictures and pleasant artistic visions--often a specialty of this space--are peaceful cohabitants with sterner stuff, art of a more probing, rougher-hewed nature.

Culled through the discriminating eye of juror Ron Robertson, an assemblage artist based at Santa Barbara City College, what we get is a solid, nonpartisan overview of what makes up art in Ventura County. Needless to say, the depths vary, but the findings are encouraging.

Ventura College instructor Gerd Koch, one of the best artists in the area, displays his poetic command of the fertile ground between--and overlapping--abstract and landscape traditions. "Spring Is Searching for Someone" is, in the best sense, a painting searching for resolution. Visual beauty and compositional balance are offset by dripping rivulets of paint, creating an intriguing tension.

A similar tension, though achieved with different means and having different intentions, marks Chloe Murdock's "Nude With Wolf," one of the strongest works in the show. A narrative residue wafts in the red-suffused interior of this large painting, in which the smudged, "incomplete" painterly process and the presence of the subjects contribute to an aura of sinister sensuousness.

Resolution and simplicity are at the heart of the first-place winner in the two-dimensional division of the competition, Sherry Loehr's "Blue Fortune." This neatly crafted portrait of a box of fortune cookies doubles as a study in light and color. In the same room, Donald Fay's "Running With Old Blue" is another impressive watercolor, in which the tapestry-like field is as visually striking as the dog and woman who traverse it.

Plant life and landscapes get their day in the sun in this exhibition, with diverse results. Robert Wassell depicts Santa Cruz Island with a good feel for both the idyllic and also the mythical qualities of the island, via his crisp, stylized definitions of forms within the composition. Linda R. Wigen explores the human-like personae of drooping sunflowers with the aptly entitled "Bowed Heads."

Norma Robbins' essentially abstract piece, "The River Is a Strong Brown," asserts its naturalistic metaphor with undulating layers of bark-like paper.

In what can seem, inevitably, like a helter-skelter collision of artworks in a group show such as this, sometimes the more memorable pieces are those that tread lightly and speak softly.

A gentle, peculiar charmer in this group, for instance, is Sally Miller's "Pit Stop," whose subject is a rowboat amid a thicket of murky blue-green brush and water. Nostalgia and desolation are the twin emotions here. It is a humble, even homely, little painting that sits in a corner crowded out by its more extroverted peers, basking in its own muted, considerable charisma.

And, quiet though it is, Jane McKinney's still-life "Two Lemons" exerts a poetic, vital appreciation of objects in space.

In a rare case of sociopolitical awareness in the show, Roxie Ray shows "The Harvester," one of her affectionate portraits of farm laborers--that significant and often ignored demographic in Ventura County. Here we see a large, close-up view of a faceless picker trying to ward off the heat with a bandanna and cap.

Photography is represented, although scantly. Jurgen Kuschnik shows a wry craftiness in his work, especially in the Polaroid "Peppermania," manipulated to look like a still-life painting, and "Ode to Ruth Bernhard (Life Savers)," with hole-y candies casting ominous shadows. "Datura Mandala," Michael Apuliese's photograph, transforms rolled-up textile into an animalistic presence through clever use of tight focus.

In the 3-D category, the first-place ribbon went to Shirley Ransom's assemblage "Afterglow," in which a fire vignette is conveyed through found objects. Matches, scorched metal and fabric, and a ghostly image of resilient cockroaches tell the story in a roundabout way. Christine Hanson's wily "The Occupant" plays up contrasting forms and textures with a leathery serpent slithering through a solid block of wood.

For the most part, this show's theme--if there is one to be gleaned--is about innocent pursuits of beauty and the good life. That sentimental strain is epitomized in Patricia Robinson's oil painting, "Feeling Fall," a pumpkin-patch scene with a harmless allure.

And what's wrong with a show in which kitsch is liberally stirred in with stronger cultural ingredients? All in all, it's a big, happy, messy family of art from our midst, worth looking at.

ART BY DEFAULT

One of the more oddly fascinating exhibitions in a local museum of late relates to art only tangentially. The show at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art is called, with canny accuracy, "Making Life Easier: Tools, Household Technology and Office Equipment, 1870-1930."

What's really on display here is a provocative slice from the evolution of convenience and better-mousetrap building. Who would have thought that a gallery full of antique typewriters, washing machines (the 1927 Maytag is an immaculate beaut), vintage planes and other artifacts geared toward the easier life would have such appeal?

These functional, quotidian objects of yesteryear--divided by curators Tim Schiffer and Barbara Schwartzberg into tools and appliances for the home, office and farm--have, by now, taken on a more refined aesthetic character. We view them now as highly physical, surprisingly elegant and amusingly improbable implements with a strange resemblance to art, by default.

Blame it on the residual beauty of obsolescence. This show handsomely underscores the point that everyday objects eventually transform into either junk, art--or both.

Details

Ninth Annual Juried Competition

* WHERE: Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura.

* WHEN: Ends Oct. 15.

* CALL: 648-1235.

"Making Life Easier: Tools, Household Technology and Office Equipment, 1870-1930."

* WHERE: Ventura County Museum of History and Art, 100 E. Main St., Ventura.

* WHEN: Ends Oct. 16.

* CALL: 653-0323.

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