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Quite a Catch

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sea life has landed, with a friendly vengeance, in the Ojai Arts Center. It takes the form of a lighthearted, two-artist exhibition that asks little more of viewers than to keep an open mind and suspend cynicism long enough to enjoy. This is an exhibition that doesn’t dive deep or aesthetically challenge. Rather, it exerts a simple charm. And that is worth the price of admission.

We can also sense an agreeable symbiosis between the artists: Margy Gates, who offers gentle-spirited prints, and Dyfed Pritchard, who creates wild, gangly ceramic sculptures.

One is subtle, the other gregarious. One faithfully reproduces the exotic fishes slicing underwater, among the equally exotic tangle of coral reefs. The other creates fantastical monsters, mounted on boards like trophies of fishing trips in a parallel universe.

Pritchard’s extensive series of relief pieces, consuming most of the large gallery and the display cases in the hallway, goes by the title “Aquatica” (rhymes with exotica) and seeks to balance aspects of fantasy and veracity.

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Often, his multicolored creatures are purely imaginative and exaggerated, stuffed with extra tubes, protrusions and other gnarly contours. Rugged is the key word here.

At other times, nature, conveyed through pieces such as “Spanish Shawl Nudibranch,” a seashell of surreal design, is its own wildest imagineer.

Ceramics have a special place in the heart of the Ojai art scene, given the legacies of such celebrated figures as the late Beatrice Wood and internationally noted potter Otto Heino (whose wife-collaborator Vivika died a few years ago). It’s safe to say that Pritchard fits into the local ceramic scene as a friendly outsider, venturing into an undersea world of his own invention.

Gates’ paintings, familiar to habitues of the local art scene, are often of landscape and seascape subjects. The latter is the focus in “Island Images,” a series of prints based on finely rendered watercolors.

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Her tightly composed scenarios are content to bask in the innate wonder of underwater tropical phenomena, art from a snorkeler’s perspective. Fishes with elaborate markings and the peculiar formations of coral reefs provide her with built-in visual drama. More or less local scenery also makes its way into the picture, as with the “Anacapa Arch I,” celebrating the nearby splendor of the Channel Islands.

* “Island Images,” art by Margy Gates, and “Aquatica,” ceramics by Dyfed Pritchard, through Wednesday at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St., in Ojai. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tue.-Sun.; 646-0117.

Displaced Visions: One of the more rewarding art exhibitions in Santa Barbara is tucked away, discreetly, in the library of the Contemporary Arts Forum. You will find it among two other sculpture shows at the forum, including large works of Dean DeCocker and the happy-funky folk art of Wynn Powers. It is the mild-mannered, quiet one in the corner.

Welcome to the metaphorically charged, intricately fashioned, artistic world of Hoang Vu, a Vietnam-born and now Los Angeles-based artist whose show “Natural Selection” embodies the notion that subtlety yields depth of meaning. Vu’s works are crafted from superfine manipulations of wire, into tiny but mighty sculptures alluding to the plant world and the hidden anatomical realm of innards. The pieces themselves jut out from the wall, connected by spring-like umbilical cords, and often cast shadows that become part of the artistic drama.

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In Vu’s art, there are detectable references to human organs, cellular activity and such external wonders as a snowflake. His references are poetic, though, generally avoiding the overly literal. Instead, he favors the wistfully expressive language of an artist in touch with himself and flecked by longing for a lost, stigmatized, and verdant homeland.

* “Natural Selection,” sculptures by Hoang Vu, through March 7 at Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo, in Santa Barbara. Gallery hours: Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun., noon-5 p.m.; 966-5373.


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