The Buenaventura Gallery is a fairly democratic venture, by nature, with one showcase artist featured monthly in the back room and the rest of the space given over to a rotating exhibition of artists.
Once in awhile, though, group show syndrome takes over, as with the current exhibition, the 14th Annual Juried Show.
A bounty of 200 entries was winnowed to the roughly 75 pieces here, and the emphasis is on, well, no emphasis in particular.
A variety--of media, methods and approaches--is what makes a show like this intriguing to see, as a sampler, albeit an innately selective one, of what is out there in Ventura County's art scene.
First place in painting went to Constance Faye Haverlah's "The Glories of Summer," a landscape work as a warm, vegetative thicket, while Betty Buckner's "Golden Expanse," winner of third place, is a more stylized view of landscape tradition, with radiating bands of vivid color riveting the composition.
Small strips of canvas attached to the painting's surface add an extra skin of reality to the art-making process.
Lee Hodges, who has been experimenting in a personalized mixed-media format for a while now, shows "Jacob's Dream." It blends text and superimposed imagery, as if pondering the naturally layering effect of mythology and history.
Watercolorist Katherine McGuire, who normally presents airy and lucid views of Ventura County architecture, dips into history a bit with "Ventura River." Here, we find a rancher amid sheep and cows, by the gentle rush of water in the Ventura River, oil wells in the background reminding us of the area's past life as an agrarian zone yielding to the oil industry.
In other watercolor news, Donna Clark's "Jewels of the Sea" is an unpretentious, salty still-life celebration of seashells, filling up a horizontal picture plane.
The three-dimensional entries include the first-place winner, Michael Sixbey's tall, lean wood sculpture, weaving in vague references to both figure and flower. Hanna Lee Hombordy's second-place "End of the Rainbow" is one of the artist's trademark assemblages, teeming with bright colors and playful shape-shifting.
Juried shows with awards attached are inherently subjective affairs, and eyes of the beholders will supply their own reward system.
For this viewer, the most memorable works on display speak softly, in an enigmatic voice, managing to avoid tradition while drawing on the artistic skill required and adhering to their own strange logic.
Joanne Dramko's "Iceberg," for instance, is an evocative cloudscape painting, based on a subject at once very real and geothermal, but also visually abstract. Ruth Hartman's small, simple watercolor painting "Figure Head! Hawaiian Chief" is a keenly realized piece with light draped diagonally across a wooden totem, conveying a strange, disarming charm.
And nothing more dramatic than a dimly lighted interior is at the core of Paula Odor's "Afternoon Shadows #2," but it's a subtle and powerful painting, sensitive to the cryptic allure of the everyday. Potted plants, silhouetted in the falling sunlight of afternoon behind closed curtains, take on sudden poetic meaning, and a sense of appreciated domestic space is palpable.
Some art falls victim to the baggage of cliches handed down through art history; some finds its own way to a fresh, honest embrace of life.
14th Annual Juried Competition, through Saturday at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St., in Ventura. Hours: Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; 648-1235.
Assembly Required: The fine, rough art of creating assemblages with found materials is nothing new for dm Spaulding, who has shown inventive approaches to making art with detritus. The end effect is often surprisingly delicate rather than junk-loving.
Of late, Spaulding's work, as seen in a fine show upstairs at Natalie's Fine Threads, finds the material list focusing, and leaning heavily on, rope and thin metal bands that suggest strange paper or fabric.
These objects are artfully engaged and used in ways suggesting linear drawing, to invoke unexpected imagery and other materials. In short, this is art about masquerade and metamorphosis.
The pieces in the "Life Cycle" series involve ropes with ragged casing of twigs, swirling like a natural energy force around the man-made product.
"Life Cycle II, a Black Hole" suggests, alternately, basket-weaving and ominous cosmology. "Woven Space" blends rope with thin metal bands, the surface turned multicolored through oxidation.
And in the relief piece called "A Couched Rope," a small length of rope sits next to an elaborate, carved wooden construction, which in itself seems to mimic the nature of a knotty rope.
Materials' identities become cleverly confused, and, ditto, our perception thereof. It causes one to think, and that alone is reason enough to check out the art.
dm Spaulding, assemblage and sculpture, through Oct. 16 at Natalie's Fine Threads, Upstairs Gallery, 596 E. Main St. in Ventura. Hours: Tue.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-4 p.m.; 643-8854.
Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.