They Watch

Joint Venture shows us our world, seen from without

There's a prickliness that sustains the new art exhibit "Joint Venture," up now at the Co-Op Gallery at the Lab. It's not "The Family of Man," and you wouldn't want it any other way. Not with four hours of 24facing you down, and the two-hour premiere of American Idol next week. This is your other temporary reality. The curators actually held back one work from first-timer Julie Bolene because it was too strong for the show, but she makes up for it elsewhere, with an excellently cartoony painting of a wide-eyed girlie in a ball-gag. It's very blue—literally: it's painted blue.

There's a pervasive inhumanity here, and not just because some people like it rough. When you look through the eyes of some of these artists, you're seeing our world as they seem to see it, for the first time.

It's a refreshing change, beginning with the show's second work, Akaysha & Arien, from Huntington Beach High ceramics instructor Matt Harward. Harward earned a painting degree before turning to ceramics, "Venture" curator Stephen Crout says. This and the business of starting a family seem to have fired his spleen in Akaysha, a series of drawn-together snapshot images of standoffish stick children, robots a la Jeff Soto and Simpsons-like aliens—slightly slimy, but strangely inviting. An art world veteran, Crout is quick to pick out the personalities

"There's the animals," he says, indicating the alien; "the Mommy-didn't-give-me-enough-attentions . . ." Typical art crowd—er, except the stick girl. "That's based on a stick figure that Matt's daughter drew and they put on the refrigerator."

Elsewhere are more scenes from a Blade Runner storyboarding, of some nightmarish, hard-edged world of the future. Another new discovery, Kenny Wilkins, delivers Rise and Fall, a canvas of The City—any major city—seen from above, color wheel tilted: its arteries re-tinted from gray concrete to misty white, framing dark buildings and blots of green and red life.

Things are slightly askew, and the periodic glimpses of humanity that invade "Venture" only confirm it. Orange Coast College student Brett Tapia turns in the you-had-to-be-there The Soul of Coltrane, a nice monochrome that would resonate if you knew your 'trane; and the creepily familiar Sgt. Peppers, a revisiting of the four Beatles in their gaudy psychedelic uniforms. That record turns 40 in a few months—but in Tapia's painting, there's no Cute One/Smart One/Ginchy One (Ringo). Sans wrinkles, as Tapia paints, they're all cute and it's terrifying. Natasha Buruato's ghoulish Icy Breath of Life woman, which hangs adjacent, seems positively warm by comparison.

It makes an interesting segue to sometimes OC Weekly freelance photographer Roxanne Harpe's Self Inflictionphotos: three distant frames of a ballet dancer's legs, torso, face. They're distinct enough to make her memorable—but so fractured that we realize we will never know her.

And from here, it's a short step to Scott Broberg's photographs of places and items our minds remember, but which our eyes see as new—a very effective preview for his opening at the Artery next weekend. Here are rocks that look like ducks (Duck Rock), bumper cars like strange visitors (Alien in the Mirror), and chickens roasting (Chicken Window)—all simple vignettes, complicated in the making: the bug eyes of bumper cars; the fire under the chickens, reflecting in the reflections of cars in the shop window.

It's all probably what you'd see in your life—if you ever stopped to look.

JOINT VENTURE, AT THE COOP GALLERY, THE LAB, 2930 BRISTOL ST., COSTA MESA, (714) 966-6660; WWW.THELAB.COM, WWW.COOPGALLERIES.ORG. CALL FOR HOURS. THROUGH FEB. 1. FREE.

 
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