Review: ‘Phantom Color’ at CB1 transcends in black and white

“Phantom Color,” the title of a terrific show at CB1, refers to illusory hues induced by, among other things, color deprivation. Subjected to a restrictive diet of black and white, the eye conjures what it’s missing and hallucinates color.

This show isn’t about trickery, however, as much as it’s about vision and the visionary. The three Santa Barbara-based artists -- Eric Beltz, Nathan Hayden and Brian Scott Campbell -- use a reductive palette to invoke states of expanded consciousness.

Beltz and Hayden have a deep affinity in this regard, and the pairing of their work is synergistic. Campbell’s ink-and-graphite drawings merely tag along.

The drawings are, themselves, thinner and concerned more with surfaces than inner depths. Combining full-strength black with washes of gray, they have a postmodern-designy feel, each piece a stew of references to the grand, distant past (classical columns, Olympians) and the prosaic present (hot dogs and crew socks), bound by free-floating decorative squiggles and spirals. The drawings feel artificially pumped with enthusiasm. Their buoyancy is not infectious.

Hayden and Beltz look back in time too, for sources and styles, but their retrospection is more integral to introspection. Hayden’s ink-on-felt wall hangings suggest a vaguely ‘70s vintage, in keeping with the earnest, mystical striving evoked by their imagery.


Radiating rays and repeated chevrons mix with forms rooted in the botanical, mechanical and diagrammatic, the cosmological mappings of mandalas and sand paintings, the symbolic abstractions of Native American tapestries. The graphic ebullience of these interconnected ribs, eyes, leaves and lobes fuels an overall sense of ascension, an upward thrust toward higher planes.

In addition to the felt pieces, Hayden has painted an entire wall with a spiraling vortex pattern and filled two vitrines with small cards that enchant with their finely inked, stream-of-consciousness organisms and, on the reverse sides, found texts and meandering thoughts penned in a delicate cursive, punctuated by hearts. The work has a spiritual intelligence as well as a sense of humor.

Beltz steers his backward/inward view toward colonial Americana, specifically cross-stitched needlework. His meticulous, graphite-on-bristol works apply the organizing principle of a 1/8-inch-grid to sampler-like truisms (“A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Hours”) and reverberating star and diamond patterns.

The dense, pixellated fields of shaded squares resemble stitchery as well as the preliminary drawings made to guide such work. Quilt designs also come to mind. The work bespeaks and pays homage to a kind of exacting, repetitive, meditative labor.

While nodding to female industry of the past, Beltz triggers an optical buzz that verges on the psychedelic. In his tight, illustrative drawings as in the cross-stitch-derived works, he explores moral as much as material history, pressing on some raw nerves and eliciting complicated laughter.

His titles touch on the mythic -- “The Flood,” “The Heavens Open” -- but his work is also profoundly intimate, a matter of personal visions and their attendant beliefs. Salvation of all sorts and delicious destabilization consort on every page.

CB1 Gallery, 207 W. 5th St., (213) 806-7889, through July 20. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.