Time scene

By Charles Donelan

Seven local artists have turned the gallery of the Fielding Graduate Institute into the scene of a sprawling, ambitious inquiry into time and space through the multiple mediums of collage and assemblage art. The artists, invited by curator participant Wayne J. Hoffman, include Tony Askew, Daniel Case, Steve Cushman, Anne Luther, Barbara McIntyre and Susan Savage.
More than 70 works are now on view, ranging from the at once exuberant and wistful "54 Hared Ones" by Steve Cushman, with its central element of regulation Rawlings baseballs, to the sensuous spiritual collages "Out of the Ashes" and "The Narrow Gate" by Susan Savage, with their delicate palettes and iconic tilted cross-structuring grids.
Curator Wayne J. Hoffman's work is an anchor for the show, as Hoffman has a wide range, from the Cornell-perfect balance of a cornucopia of small objects, as in "Sobrecarta," to the starkness of the portrait in "Israfel," scored as though imprisoned and covered with a halo made of a half a broken dinner plate.
Tony Askew is the pop star of the group. He sings with primary colors and bold conversions of the grid. Give him the wrapper from a pack of smokes, a bright yellow envelope from the photo shop, some red and black ink, and a piece of an old ruler, and he will, as in "Camel 3-9," hand you back a postmodern composition of great visual appeal and intellectual depth.

In "Quality Ride" and "Look (Entrada)," the two halves of a yellow taxi show up, entering and leaving the picture planes, traveling through the bright sophisticated imaginary city of Askew's delightful work.
Daniel Case pushes the boundary between collage and assemblage, incorporating elements such as steel instruments, mesh and netting with a pictorial sensibility informed by abstract painting.
In his series "The Day After Tomorrow," "Next Tuesday" and "Thursday," his painterly style is most in evidence as minimalist arrangements of black and silver on red are given subtle variations and masked with bits of mesh and hair. The effect is haunting and beautiful. The emphasis on time, as announced by the titles is one that runs through the exhibition.
Steve Cushman is the most vigorous in pursuit of the assemblage path, with objects nearly cascading out of the antique drawers and wooden cases that often form the ad hoc frames of his compositions.
In the dark and enigmatic "Not an Exit," the open lid of horizontal case holds a sideways mounted print of San Luis Obispo Men's Colony. Could this eerie linoleum cut, with its gnarled oak in the foreground, have come from a prison art studio? On the bottom of the drawer a prefabricated metal sign proclaims that this is "NOT AN EXIT."
The drawer is, paradoxically, filled with keys -- keys to doors, keys to cars, keys no longer in use. Cushman raises one of the great basic questions of art: What is this work an opening to?

At top, Anne Luther's "Lost World."
Above, Wayne J. Hoffman's "Israfel.

To look at the handles and lids of these reclaimed drawers and valises is to confront the desire we bring o art to be let in, to look inside and to open up and explore the mind and the past.
The show comes together around certain standouts, such as Anne Luther's gorgeous, romantic "Lost World." he close-up profile at the right of the piece recalls the dreamlike atmosphere of May Deren's experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon," while the horizontal organization and image of the child suggest engagement with the personal past.
Luther also has one of the most playful images in the show, her witty collage of "Vintage Montecito," which is lovingly tongue-in-cheek about the way luxury used to be depicted in postcards.

Collage & Assemblage:
Objects Transformed into Art
Through Oct. 2
Fielding Graduate Institute
Art Gallery, 2112 Santa Barbara St.
Gallery hours 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday