World of Whimsy


In the whimsy-doused three-person show now at the Childress Gallery in Ojai, art is not a serious or sober matter. That's not to say the artists aren't serious in their creative endeavors. It's just that Volkswagen parts, mutant beasts and funky paintings are at the heart of what they do in the studio.

Here we find the expressions of three artists who seem to be kindred, offbeat spirits.

Santa Paulan Bill Back produces paintings with an appealing free-handed clumsiness and "naive" charm, while Ventura's Dan Layman shows several of his animalistic junk-based sculpture and Ojai artist Michael McCarthy's sculptures show a gonzo comic attitude at work.

Let it not be said that Ventura County lacks for alternative culture. Here's proof.

There is an unabashedly cartoonish aspect to Back's paintings, and also a folk-art quality, in the way he pushes around ideas without excessive concern for refinement. He dips into mythology, with works like "Muck, Drow and Pan" and "Babel and Truth," in which mutant lovers generate a subtle sexual buzz.

Speaking of folk art, "Trick or Treat" has a fussy, busy energy in the composition that recalls Reverend Howard Finster's now-legendary work. "Branches" implements its own dry joke: plastic foliage protrudes from the canvas.

The going gets invitingly surreal in "My Stic Man in Paradise," all clouds and squiggly drawing. The energetic quality in his work is the fizzing of an active imagination, unhampered by any scolding left-brain activity.

Layman has shown frequently in town, mostly at Art City II, and his imagination and resourcefulness are the subplot of his work. He's known for his menagerie of creature-like sculptures, created from VW parts, and other castoff metal objects. "Dogasaurus" sports a rusty saw blade for a back and a spring for a tail.

His unorthodox sculptural materials are self-evident in other pieces, such as "Arm Rest Bugs," "Dragon Fly on Bowling Ball" and "Bug-Eyed Air Cleaner Face."

While Layman conveys a recycling aesthetic and a nice taste of absurdity in his work, another layer extends to Dada, fluxus, and other gently subversive movements. This art seeks to reorient our expectations, challenge our glib values and leave us laughing a bit.

McCarthy has worked in animation, and that sensibility shows in his zany ceramics. "Pump" is the biggest and boldest piece here, a complex of shapes, loony faces and pipes that go nowhere.

It almost seems a bad boy's interpretation of the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland. Young animators these days. Can't take 'em anywhere without some smart-alecky reference to the founding fathers of their field.

As in the world according to cartoons, reality is a malleable, rubbery thing in McCarthy's hands.

He loves dripping, melting surfaces and tutti-frutti color schemes. Half-breed creatures look as though they got stuck partway through the morphing process. This work, along with its gallery mates, is all in the spirit of good, strange fun.


"See No Evil," Bill Back, Dan Layman and Michael McCarthy, through Oct. 3 at G. Childress Gallery, 319 E. El Roblar, Ojai. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 640-1387.

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