'Visionary' Images Leave Viewers Guessing


A group unapologetically calling itself the "Ojai Visionary Artists" has set up shop this month in the Ojai Center for the Arts, presenting its second annual "Visionary Show." In this bleary, diverse selection of images and/or visions, the results are mixed--in media, focus and quality.

In art, the V-word is a dangerous one. As with the word genius, visionary is one of those ambiguous critical terms tossed about too casually, to the point of rendering it meaningless.

And what is it to be a self-described visionary artist? Does the description suggest a type of art somehow more profound than traditional art? Presumably, the art here is not at all for art's sake, but calibrated for some other, perhaps more spiritual or enigmatic ambition.

In this show, at least, no particularly clear definition rises out of the murk, though there are endearing moments all along the way. What does prevail in the gallery is a certain aura of "otherness," a willful departure from art world norms in both approach and subject matter.

It's hard to know what to make of the show, from a curatorial standpoint, but pleasures are lurking.


Entering the gallery, the visitor is greeted with a funkily rendered example of paint 'n' poetry on wooden blinds entitled "Butterfly Tongue Clan," by Skip. The artist is fond of found materials, as also seen in his "Elemental Game," a brightly painted piece on cardboard.

Cynthia Wright's paintings depict vaporous figures that seem to be only half there, or that dissolve into the ground. Linda Harmon's soft-edged abstractions appear on triangular-shaped canvases that intentionally disorient the standard rectangular format.

One of the more memorable works in the show is Vanae Warner's amicable abstraction, "You Had to Be There." Its formal relationships suggest an imploded landscape or a poetically recalled anecdote. The "there" in question is evident, but not fleshed out.

David Sherrod, who showed his fine-lined drawings in this space last month, returns with more fantasy fodder, epitomized by "Windwoman," a winsome mythical character with that wind-swept look. His "Submerged Obsessions" is a beach scene run mildly amok, replete with dancing dolphins.

Similarly, Mary Howell's "Self-Portrait" presents a patchwork of plant and animal imagery as ingredients in a my-favorite-things aesthetic of self-definition.

The range of expressions is broad. Suzanne Brower's collages, for example, are discreet and effectively quixotic, while Jack Greyhan's collage work comes off as simultaneously heavy-handed and all-too-light, like cut 'n' paste throw-togethers.

There are visions of the Apocalypse here, too, of both the nuclear and biblical sort. Joan Wysong's "Phoenix Risen" suggests a general purpose fiery demise, while Matt Rey's "Mushroom Omelet" bases its lethally punning title on an A-bomb mushroom cloud.

A scorched doll--incinerated innocence--is flanked by a quote by Edwin Markham spelled out in wooden alphabet blocks: "in vain we build the city if we do not first build the man."

From the world of intriguing oddities come the works of Lisa Sauvageau, whose "Guided Visualization #3" portrays tendril-like protrusions that suggest alien flora. Also impressive are D'Anira's amped-up, fluorescent acrylics with sexual-political undertones. Her "Living Hell" and "No More Hell" deal with life with and without sexist attitudes.


In another corner entirely, we find the work of the conspicuously skilled, thematically sly painter Tom Hardcastle. He serves as the resident realist-cum-surrealist in the show, wielding a striking representational technique in the service of twisting reality.

"Halcyon" stands out amid the other art here for its sheer audacity and sociocultural buzz. A topless blond woman looms above a postcard-ready scene of high-rise beachfront hotels, incorporated coyly into the scenery. Here, two socially encoded images--or visions--of leisure and desire interlace, in a bizarre, satirical way.

By this point, though, the visitor is perplexed, consulting an internal dictionary for some clarification. Visionary, where is thy sting?


* WHAT: "Visionary Show."

* WHERE: Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai.

* WHEN: Noon-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, through July 31.

* CALL: 646-0117.

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