Spirit Scapes


Much as we try to appreciate art for its own sake and to enter into a private aesthetic sanctum, real life sometimes enters and colors our perception.

Such is the case with the exhibition of paintings by Linda Abbott at Buenaventura Gallery. Abbott died of breast cancer a couple of months before her one-person show here, and her daughter Karen saw through the organization of the show, partly as a tribute to the artist's memory.

But there's more to the story, in that the artist devoted herself to pursuing art in her last years, finding therapeutic release in the creative process. The show becomes more than just another exhibit; it serves as a memorial to an artist who found solace through her work, to the end.

Abbot's work, nicely observed and realized on canvas, mostly focuses on landscape paintings in appreciation of natural wonders in our general vicinity--sources of inspiration that we might easily take for granted. With her relaxed brushwork, Abbott finds scenic intrigue at Carpinteria Beach or in the odd reddish rock formations in "South of Conejo."

The region's Strauss and McGrath ranches are depicted with wistful grace, as emblems of the area's dwindling agrarian legacy. "June Gloom," a peaceful meadow ringed by a swarm of gangly eucalyptus trees, is anything but gloomy. The vernal tenderness of a country road spreads across the panels of a triptych in "Canada Larga (3)."

Her "Pathways" series evokes the tacit interplay between landscaping and architecture, between trees and foliage and the familiar sight of Mediterranean-style structures. At times, trees cast lazy, mottled shadows on a walkway, capturing a calm ambience.

Despite the sad circumstance behind the show, it manages to be life-affirming. Traditional as the work may be, it comes from the heart and expresses a gentle spirit.

* "Reflections on a Gentle Spirit," paintings by Linda Abbott, through June 27 at Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; (805) 648-1235.


Media Mixer: Over at Natalie's Fine Threads, Karen L. Brown presents a suitably wide gamut of work, showcasing a prolific artist who is no stranger to media-hopping. Brown draws on models of nature in an entirely different way than Abbott, not dwelling on specifics but depicting forms and energies.

Nature-based images are cropped or taken out of context, artfully. With "Old Blue I's," four small canvases represent varying ratios of blue sky to ambiguous fragments that could be either sand dune contours or nude figures. She freely experiments in terms of materials and media, including even a small piece of shale--a tiny archeological reference--among the imagery of crude, early human forms in "Prehistoric Dot."

The nagging, pervasive influences of art icons are hard to get around, and in a couple of the strongest pieces here, Brown nods in the direction of famous artists. The fruit-in-question in "Magritte/Escher Apple" nods to the surreal instincts of the Belgian painter Rene Magritte and the graphic trickery of Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher.

"Georgia and I" is a dizzy view into a swirling vortex of what could be a macro close-up of flower petals or vaginal membrane--the kind of paradox that Georgia O'Keeffe would have savored.

As seen in this sampler of works, Brown hasn't found her way yet, but she's actively striving toward an aesthetic to call her own.

* Karen L. Brown, through July 3 at Natalie's Fine Threads, 596 Main St., Ventura. Gallery hours: 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; 643-8854.

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