“Body & Soul, Annual Tri-Counties Juried Exhibition”
When: through June 22
Where: Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, Westmont College, 955 La Paz Rd., in Montecito
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
Information: 565-6162, www.westmontmuseum.org
There are far more challenging and less scenically-endowed ways of checking out the diversity of artists on the Central Coast region—from Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties–than making the pilgrimage out to Westmont College each year around this time. This is the region-focused moment, after the college’s academic year has ended and before summer programming begins on this lovely, wooded campus in Montecito, when the Museum of Art opens its portals and venue to the annual Tri-Counties Juried Exhibition.
This year, as always, what pours out can be both confirming and revealing, in terms of gaining a broad and necessarily selective overview of art The thematic consideration of “Body & Soul” is treated loosely, and a democratic sampling of works in multiple media—painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography—was arrived at through the jurying filter of Cal State University Long Beach art professor (and printmaker herself) Roxanne Sexauer.
There can be an inherent virtue in the practice of inviting an accredited “outsider” to lend an objective eye to a group show such as this–in this case, winnowing down a show from an initial 360 entries. Unbeholden to local alliances or insider politics, the visiting juror can conjure up a fresh vision of the artistic resources in our midst, as happens here.
From the juristic perspective, the official “Best of Show” award was granted to Brendan Murdock’s lithograph “Quackenbush,” a surreal, dark dream-like admix of animal heads and hints of sinister doings, amid a blood red wash. We sense the presence of evil, without identifying its source or possible peril, which makes the image all the more disturbing—but provisionally disturbing.
Hanging next to the “Best of” is another creative pictorial taunt, Ralph Corners’ “Little Guys.” This mixed media piece is a busy, picaresque collection of cartoon-ish figures, with an overall gonzo cowboy playhouse effect. Across the Museum’s entryway gallery space, Castey Caden’s “The Matters at Hand” nicely mixes its matters and materials: cyanotype and acrylic on canvas blend in the sensuous, light-palette visual character, and a mesh of abstraction, wallpaper-like pattern swatches and faint, ghostly echoes of figures in the decorative mist.
Among the repeat visitors in this annual show are the kaleidoscopic dot-matrixing painter Kerrie Smith and dry-witted tromp l’oeil sculptor Joan Rosenberg-Dent, whose “Raw Edges” is made of porcelain but craftily imitates the texture of an artfully scrunched stack of fabric scraps. In another corner of the main gallery, Marilyn McRae continues the illusory, material-bending trend, with “Fault Line,” in which finely-folded paper is arranged to somehow suggest the geological fragility of the title.
Sculpture moves in mysterious ways in this selection. Could it be something in the Tri-Counties water? Coleman Griffith’s “Déjà vu” is a mixed media piece on a transparent plank of resin, double-sided and multi-dimensional, and strategically placed like a secular stained-glass window in front of the entrance to the Museum’s inner sanctum/main gallery.
Therein, we find the tiny but potent “Seat of Power,” by Colleen M. Kelly, a cast bronze facsimile of a relic/ruin in which the crumbed pillars and mundane “seat” indicate power of a dubious, fragile sort. Perched before the window looking out on a miniature outdoor sculpture garden-ette, the going gets mutant, in the form of Lisa Crane’s “Splitting Hares,” a pun-house creation with a hare boasting two heads and two golden tails. Beatrix Potter meets Luis Bunuel.
Minga Opazo’s “Density” consists of two halved spheres made of compressed “recycled and found clothing and Elmer’s glue,” From humble materials comes a thing of unexpected, resourceful beauty.
Collage has its moment here, as well. Rebecca Marder’s “Symphonies of the Forest” culls collage elements and photographic fragments into a compact, alluring mash-up, flecked with an obscure but detectable sense of narrative. Specificity of context is at least somewhat more dialed in with Jana Zimmer’s collage “Copyright 1930 Palestine,” a spare visual design nonetheless charged with historical voltage and gravitas.
Some of the more interesting photography entries here push at conventional wisdoms about the medium. In Sara Yerkes’s “Chi I,” ultra-soft-focus is used to poetic ends, in an image of a dancer in motion—presumably—but with its material and anatomical subject transformed into a fleeting, vaporous form. By contrast, Pecos Pryor’s “Two Years: Sifted Pencil Shavings” tightly focuses on an odd subject—a small, multi-colored ball of shavings, seemingly formed into a clenched ball of possibly cosmic energy.
And if there were an award in the exhibition for Most Iconic Summery Motif, it would go to Stephanie Jamgochian’s “Pool Donuts,” the primary subjects in which are bright-colored inflatable rings in a suburban swimming pool. But the real subject is something less tangible and more in common with painter Eric Fischl’s backyard-based thought world–something to do with the laze of summer mindset in an archetypal American backyard, with or without existential overtones. Your choice.
The final upshot of this perennial pre-summer show, as seen before, is that the Tri-Counties art scene is alive and well. It moves in private, individual ways, but fares well together under the show’s collective curatorial umbrella.