Drawn at Random : Pieces in show share a unique approach by artists, who let intuition be their guide.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times.

It takes guts to face a blank canvas. Beginning an artwork, or anything else for that matter, is often the hardest part of the process.

But the artists in the show "Randomness" at Century Gallery are especially brave souls with adventuresome spirits. Once they begin their works, they choose to proceed at random, without definite aim, purpose, method or adherence to a prior arrangement.

"When I start out, I just have a piece of paper. I have no preconceived ideas," said Gail Tomura, one of six artists in the show. "The first color down leads to the second."

In Tomura's mixed media on paper "Even Xmas Isn't Xmas II," she was just "doing shapes," she said. "It started to look like a Christmas tree. Halfway through the painting, I deliberately made it into a Christmas tree."

But this image is not a typical Christmas tree. Although rhinestones give it a joyous twinkle, it also presents a moody, foreboding tone.

"In my work, I combine the lighter and darker sides of life," she said. "This seemed like the perfect vehicle to do that."

Gallery director Lee Musgrave decided to explore the theme of intuitive art-making after last year's Century Gallery exhibit "Sketchy Beginnings." It centered on a contrasting artistic process--the use of initial sketches and drawings or photographs from newspapers and magazines as inspiration for a painting or mixed-media piece.

He was also motivated by discussions he had with art students at Mission College, where he is a faculty member. The college administers the gallery on behalf of Los Angeles County.

"In the classes I teach, I have a lot of young men who like to use the term 'chaos' and show me visual examples of what they mean by it," Musgrave said. "They express that in graffiti. The graffiti has these gestural marks. They think that's revolutionary.

"You say 'Jackson Pollock' to them and they've never heard of him. I direct them to art history so they know it's an old, time-honored tradition. I tell them, 'I'm not teaching you to be an artist. I'm teaching you how to develop your perceptual awareness.' "

To some viewers of the current show, Selma Moskowitz's subtle abstract paintings might appear devoid of color. But, Moskowitz said, "there is as much color--properties of color--in these paintings as if I were painting a la Matisse."

Moskowitz has been enhancing her appreciation of color and light for more than 30 years through her painting process. In recent years, it has involved alternately applying and sanding down layers of paint to "find something I haven't found before."

"Color is the most important element, but in very specific ways--as it's changed through the process of painting. . . .

"I started sanding to get rid of (something). In the process, I discovered the sanding changed the color. Then sanding became as important a tool as a brush."

Rather than color, Kaoru Mansour is drawn to texture. For instance, the pattern of old cotton-lace drapes from her 1920 house appears in her acrylic-and-mixed-media-on-canvas work, "Double Talk 501."

She applies texture randomly to her work to "avoid my habit of doing form," she said. "I try to purposely make an accident of my paintings."

In Mel Menkin's photographic series, "Cosmetic Re-Hab," the accident begins with the subject matter: a car that has been rear-ended or sideswiped or suffered other indignities. Menkin says he simply documents the process of refurbishment.

But his images reflect much more. He writes in his artist statement: "From the dazzling array of colors to the startling and bizarre visual formations found at random, a compelling imagery emerges resonating with echoes of 20th-Century painting ideas."

Bold strokes, at once expressionistic and constructivist, dominate the four canvases of Renee Amitai. Although Amitai works with the same colors in each one, they are distinctly different compositions, and each seems to convey positive and negative aspects of power.

Passion is the subject of Katherine Coons' energetic paintings. In contrast, her bound-up sculpture, "Put to Bed," with its wire around plaster, suggests a suppression of impulse or feeling.

Although intuition guides these artists, no piece by an artist is completely isolated from his or her other works.

"I think that people have the wrong idea about randomness and intuition," Moskowitz said. "Intuitiveness is controlled by training, experience and habits of working."

Even though the process is random, she said, the works "still come out of me. That's the boundary."



What: "Randomness: Renee Amitai, Katherine Coons, Kaoru Mansour, Mel Menkin, Selma Moskowitz and Gail Tomura."

Location: Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Ends April 13.

Call: (818) 362-3220.

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