Dimensions within dimensions

A variety of artwork on display at the Chico Art Center

ENTERTAINING AMBIGUITY <br>Artist Pravda McCroskey’s clay bust “Sensuous Spiritual Visitor” is among the more intriguing pieces currently on display through Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Chico Art Center.

Artist Pravda McCroskey’s clay bust “Sensuous Spiritual Visitor” is among the more intriguing pieces currently on display through Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Chico Art Center.

photo by Tom Angel

From mundane landscapes to brilliant abstractions, from strange sculpture to even stranger furniture, a diverse collection of locally created work is currently on display at the Chico Art Center.

The center’s annual “Members Exhibition” is as always a mixed bag, and this 2001 installment is no exception. And while the majority of the pieces tend toward the pedestrian (however well-handled the medium), there are enough peculiar and inspired works to recommend an afternoon’s visit.

Among the more intriguing pieces is Charlene Vigallon’s “Reliquary for a Silent Forest.” It is basically a vertical, wall-mounted oblong deep-green box, lacquered over with golden, fan-shaped ginkgo leaves that adorn its surface almost like a wallpaper pattern. About six inches from the top, an open cubical holds a set of small black pallets suggesting a nest. Perched atop this is a pallid bird’s skull. A reliquary is, of course, a place where sacred relics are stored. Moreover, the “silence” in the title suggests Rachel Carson’s devastating anti-DDT testament Silent Spring—in which the discovery of dead birds every spring leads to the conclusion that man’s use of pesticides is in effect murdering nature. Vigallon’s piece is almost as sobering.

Pravda McCroskey’s clay bust “Sensuous Spiritual Visitor” depicts an ambiguous creature whose protruding lips are vaguely “w"ed into a lascivious smirk. As with McCroskey’s other works, both sexes are suggested in the face, although the rocket nosecone breasts below lend themselves to a female interpretation. The facial features are huge and protruding, appropriately suggesting a carnival mask. One can look through one elephantine ear and see out the other. There is what appears to be a sacred third eye extending from the forehead. Yet, if this sexually ambiguous creation is also spiritual, why then is its skull empty? To make room for the light?

“Sicilian Vespers” by Sal Casa recalls a series of paintings the artist produced back in the ‘80s. In fact this could well be one of those original pieces, although it doesn’t jog the memory. Perhaps it is new. In either case, Casa again utilizes planes—here, rectangular spaces—and the hint of planes within the picture to suggest multiple and multiplying space. In effect, it is like viewing dimensions opening within dimensions opening.

Basically, depicted within a black rectangle almost like an advert space, an ethereal, pale ballerina’s shoe is set upon a pristine white cloth. To the left, below, are the stenciled green words “I Vespri Siciliani.” To the right is what looks like part of a chair or a window frame. Against this is a sensuous, slightly indistinct shape—is it a rose, a figure? Both? Flowing both behind and through these in alternating short-long brushstrokes of shifting colors—yellow to orange to ochre—an effect is created like a flood of molten gold that flows and pools beneath the plane containing the shoe.

Vespers essentially refers to evening prayers in Catholicism. However, it has an even older origin, dating back to pagan Rome. Specifically, vespers denoted prayers to the evening star, which represented the goddess Venus. As such, the ballerina’s shoe takes on an almost fetish aspect, in the original sense of an object representative of one’s deity.

Casa’s painting presents a mystery. And invites all to enter.