Subtle Focus


Due to construction mayhem at the Brand Library, the planned exhibition schedule for the art galleries has been altered. This means Kevin Myers' site-specific work, scheduled in the Skylight Gallery, is postponed.

That loss turns out to be a gain in appreciation for the photography exhibit of Janet Schipper, in the outer Atrium Gallery.

This is one of those subtle shows that benefits from a patient, undistracted eye.

Her deceptively bland photographs, some of which have been taken from her handmade books, also on view in display cases in the hallway, take aim at common objects and sites.

But they are envisioned with an uncommon sensitivity to the beauties of the everyday, and with droll wit to spare.

These images have some semblance of local affiliation, in that one of the series documents the Beverly Hills garden of Virginia Robinson, whose home was created by architect Nathaniel Dryden. Dryden was also the creative force behind the estate that has become the Brand Library.

Ostensibly, these images depict a garden that has outgrown its finery and upkeep, and the photographs could serve as studies of all vegetation and decay.

But, beyond those specifics, her photographs are singular views of the spiritual truths to be found in the mundane geometries and bric-a-brac in one's own backyard.

Ironic juxtapositions between image and context are often duly noted in Schipper's work. "Palm Skirts" is a close-up of unkempt palm fronds, conjuring visions of hula kitsch. The fanciful ornamentation on "Filigree Gate" looks like so much wishful opulence in an otherwise drab, rough-hewn yard.

Though a meditative image in itself, "Marble Chair" depicts the strange sight of an overstuffed chair made from rump-unfriendly marble--a paean to a deceased lounger? "Allee Chair" finds an old, wooden chair sitting neglected--or liberated--in a fern garden that looks as if it wants to reclaim the chair's materials into the natural realm. As for the image "Deco Chair," the subject of interest isn't so much the furniture relic itself as the shadow it casts, a handy symbol of the ephemeral nature of decor.

There is more to this work than deadpan humor, however. At times, the issue has to do with more purely visual values and contrasts.

In "Round Table," the table in question blends in with the mottled wall behind it, and the image turns into a formal study, a balance of shape and tone. "Shadows on the Garden Cube" focuses on a foursquare, utilitarian concrete block in the garden, now a monolith worth ruminating upon.

In what could stand as a summary of Schipper's aesthetic, the simple joining of two rugged sections of fence on a lazy road becomes a dramatic juncture anchoring the composition of "Campground Triangle." Voila, a commonplace sighting is transformed into a thing of reflection, and possibly veneration.


Janet Schipper, "Artist's Books and Photos," Sept. 29-Oct. 10 at Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St. in Glendale. Gallery hours: 1-9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 1-6 p.m. Wednesday; 1-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; (818) 548-2051.

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