San Diego

San Diego

Various Venues, San Diego

Although he’s a serious, versatile and accomplished painter, Richard Allen Morris sometimes likes to be the funny man of San Diego artists. His Gun Room at the La Jolla Museum of Art is probably the most amusing, tongue-in-cheek exhibit he’s yet put before the public. Cheerfully—and per­haps irreverently—hung by Morris him­self, the show is entirely painted (oils mostly, with some watercolor, tempera and chalk pieces) and assembled pistols, all of which point left—at another pistol.

The paintings range from huge to tiny, with one gun for each canvas or sheet of paper. Some are displayed in rickety, cluttered clusters; others hang askew singly, surrounded by expanses of white wall; some are strewn on the floor. The gun shapes, most of them fat and snub-nosed, are rendered loose­ly and crudely, as a small child might paint them, and possess something of a lollipop quality. Many are extremely simple, merely outlined in a single candy color against a flat background. Others, quite painterly and complex, are vivid elaborations of many bright hues. Liveliest of all are the assem­blages—small, rather riotous hanging constructions of wood, nails, rope, wire, military shoulder badges and lots of splattered paint.

Interestingly missing from the ex­hibit is a mood of destruction: none of the pistols look as if they’d be capa­ble of doing damage to anything or anyone. Still, toylike as they appear, they are guns, and one can make of the theme what he will. Their titles may or may not be helpful—Little Tom Muck, Killjoy, Horse Pistol, For Lady Day, Zap Rogers, Ele­phant Pistol, Lemon Drop Kid, Tiger Gat, For George Cohen, Boston Blacky, Larry Lugger, Rabbit Gat and K-Pop Repeater are but a few.

Also at the La Jolla Museum is a solo show of the new three-dimensional hard-edge polychrome constructions of Robert Matheny. Exploring letter forms (E, F, H, O, T, etc.) and color combinations, Matheny displays considerable craftsmanship and imagination. He creates his solid, graceful, tidy, exact, impersonal structures of glued-together two-by-two boards, then paints their geometric surfaces in stripes and blocks with flat, bright enamels. Mounted on tall, slender stilts or on low, stocky blocks, some of the forms are simple and stark; others are complex, even maze-like. Planes are broken by saw and paint, and some of the color juxtapositions are wonderfully incon­gruous. Anything goes and everything is fun.

Housed in the Galerie Scott-Faure in La Jolla is a dramatic exhibit entitled “Deuxieme Voyage Au Pays Eternel,” recent canvases by Stella Mertens, one­time model for Renoir and long-time student of Cézanne’s work who now creates radiant, high-colored abstract landscapes that are tremendously ex­citing. Turning her back to sun and subject, the Belgian-born French paint­er renders with complete, uninhibited subjectivity her inner vision of the world.

Clear, stinging colors and flowing lines convey Mertens’ private realm of nature, which she transforms on can­vas into something stark yet warm, mysterious, anthropomorphic, poetic, disquieting and ultimately unknown. Her pigments are bright, thick, tex­tured, unshaded, though defined by underlayers painted with their comple­ments, and resonant, alive with light, and arbitrary: a sky can be pink or lemon yellow, the sea bold scarlet or chartreuse, the land loud red or blue. Her forms are curving, rhythmic, pul­sating and sensuous; even the inani­mate seems to be alive and in motion, with trees taking on human aspects and water appearing to be the crea­tures which inhabit, or might inhabit it. It’s a weird, wondrous world explained by color and form.

The Jefferson Gallery in La Jolla is busy with exhibits of contemporary French paintings, modern European tapestries and Pre-Columbian art. Can­vases by Guy Bardone, André Brasilier, Jules Cavailles, Alexandre Garbell, Rene Genis, Gabriel Godard, André Minaux, Roger Muhl and André Vignoles pro­vide a gentle show, a pleasant breather after the knocks and jars that go along with so much current painting. The majority of these pieces are sen­sitive but strong treatments of gar­dens, landscapes, seasides, flowers and people. Most are well-textured, nicely colored and composed and ef­fectively mood-evoking. Best among them are a poignant brown portrait and a rich earth-toned flower painting by Minaux, two large, rather robust, bright yellow-green studies of women in gar­dens, a big semi-abstraction of people in broad blocks of pale colors and a light ochre still life by Godard, several fragile and elusive but intense semi­abstract isolated landscapes and city­scapes by Muhl, and two powerful still lifes and a softer seaside scene by Genis.

With the paintings are large, brightly colored, hand-woven woolen tapestries by Polish, Portuguese and French art­ists—Magdalena Abakanowicz, Krystyna Wojtyna-Drouet, Maria Laszkiewicz, Zof­ia Butrymovicz, Maria Flavia, Eduardo Nery, Rogerio Ribeiro, Joao Tavares, Antonio Charrua and Mathieu Mategot. Most of the tapestries are vivid, abstract and finely textured, with their designs reflecting current abstract movements, hard-edge influences and suggestions of Op art. Particularly note­worthy among the hangings are Flavia’s subtly figurative Design for Peace, Nery’s geometric forms and abstracted conceptions of the elements, the float­ing shapes and brilliant colors of Char­rua, the defined forms of Ribeiro and Tavares and two beautiful abstract pieces by Mategot.

There is a great deal of variety in the paintings and sculptures of Harold Torbert at Orr’s Gallery in San Diego. Although he courts many styles, Tor­bert sometimes comes up with strong statements of his own. One can dis­miss his hard-edge abstractions and im­pasto-Impressionist flower pieces as rather feebly derivative, but his non­objective canvases, his collages and his small, loosely figurative sculptures are something else again.

Particularly effective are his delicate, translucent, frequently wrinkled abstract collages of torn, superimposed and liquitexed rice paper and tissue paper: predominantly red, green or blue and definitely oriental in aspect, these are brilliantly balanced and colored. Almost as fine are two large oils composed of large, painterly blocks of red that offer interesting variations of tone and texture. Perhaps even better are Torbert’s little torsos, figures and forms of splendidly textured, subtly patinaed bronze. Taking themes from history, religion, nature and architec­ture, he makes poignant, sensitive, graceful pieces that add up to what is probably his finest and most personal expression to date.

Carole Becker, a promising young disciple of Abstract Expressionism, has an exhibit at the Art Cellar of large paintings that almost jump with vitality and movement. Employing color boldly and paint broadly and loosely, and oc­casionally dropping in barely percep­tible bits of collage, she pleases the eye and sometimes prods the mind. Her panels are superbly textured, with pigments from runny and thin to rich and thick, and her colors are well­-balanced and vibrant, with blue, green and ochre dominating. Color and tex­ture combine to form the arresting, dra­matic images within, and breathe some sort of life into two-dimensional human figures in various attitudes.

Marilyn Hagberg