Off the grid: Paul Gillis and Maura Bendett display at Cabana Home

Paul Gillis - Night III

Paul Gillis – Night III

Two very different approaches to painting can be found at the current and very modest show at Cabana Home. Artists Maura Bendett and Paul Gillis approach canvas as a puzzle to be solved, but as these dozen or so pieces show, there’s more than one solution.

Mr. Gillis works in infinitesimally small grids, creating problems for himself, then working himself out. Although his online portfolio shows familiar objects and silhouettes in his work, the selections at Cabana Home tend toward the abstract and geometric. His method consists — it appears — of working on top of stretched hessian fabric adhered to a canvas. Hessian is the underlying coarsely woven material used in rugs and tapestry, but here it becomes a grid for a further grid placed on top, drawn with graphic, ruler, and, one would assume, steady nerves.

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'La Loter'a Body Art,'Tomac Henson

‘La Loter’a Body Art,’Tomac Henson

A game of chance, or a divination tool? The Mexican card game known as Lotería has a long colorful history, as a version of bingo that just needs a deck of cards, a board, and some chip pieces. For those who play, it’s a fun evening. But as folk art, it is even more fascinating. The deck of cards portrays characters like a magician, a beautiful lady, or a soldier. But like the tarot deck, it also has icons that are both quotidian and strange, filled with hidden meanings, for example, a melon, a ladder, a boot, or a flowerpot. And then there’s a devil, a mermaid, and a drunk guy “El Borracho” (many people’s favorite.) The history and the art of Lotería decks make up the small but very fun exhibit “Lotería! Mexico’s Game of Chance and Poetry” at Casa Dolores, through Sept. 27.

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'Mr. President,'Llyn FoulkesSanta Barbara Museum of Art photos

‘Mr. President,’Llyn Foulkes

Santa Barbara Museum of Art photos

The work of a museum is done behind closed doors, away from the public. We see the austere, carefully considered, hung and lit works in echoing galleries. Nothing of the work that is done during installation is shown to us, nor is the bureaucracy, paperwork, and deal-making that happens in the simple act of accepting new works into a permanent collection. (Not that we’d want to see this anyway.)

The benefit of all that work is on display now through Sept. 14, at Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s “Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art.” Curated by Julie Joyce, it’s a grab-bag of mostly California-based artists, mostly living, and shows the breadth not just of our particular brand of art, but the eclectic nature of Ms. Joyce’s curatorial eye. From painting and drawing to photography and sculpture, there’s a lot represented here, and a lot of work that has not been seen until now.

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'Piccolo Caos (Little Chaos)Museum ofContemporary ArtS anta Barbara photos

‘Piccolo Caos (Little Chaos)

Museum ofContemporary ArtS anta Barbara photos

When talking to artist Marinella Senatore, whose show “Building Communities” is currently up at Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, aka MCASB, the word “ethics” comes up several times. In her participatory works, she acts as a sort of producer, overseeing the creation of a work — be it an opera, or a film, or a series of photos — with the participation of people from small towns and inner cites around Europe.

“I’m critical and skeptical about many public projects,” she says. “Sometimes I think the role of the artist is abusive. They are using the energy of the people for their own cause. From the beginning they already have a clear idea of what they want to make and won’t change anything.”

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'A Nun's Dream'

‘A Nun’s Dream’

The late artist and longtime Ojai resident Beatrice Wood was best known — and made her career- — as a potter, and many of her efforts went into learning the art of thrown clay. She is also known for living to the ripe old age of 105 and for spending her early years palling around with Dadaist Marcel Duchamp.

“Living in the Timeless: Drawings by Beatrice Wood” — currently at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and running through August 31 — focuses on the other side of Wood. Right up to her final years she was drawing and painting, creating works that at first look whimsical but contain undercurrents of anxiety, sexual politics, fantasy and regret.

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On the web last week there was a viral photo going around. A man had photographed a single drop of ocean water and magnified it thousands of times, revealing a universe crowded with creatures of all size and shapes, beyond our science fiction dreams (or nightmares.) With this on my mind, Brad Miller’s work at Cabana Home — on view now through June 14 — struck a chord.

While there are no creatures to be found in his work, he too is invested in the microscopic universe that’s under our noses. Sometime he reveals it in his bubble and wave photographs, and sometimes he recreates it in his ceramics and his work on wooden canvas.

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Putting the ‘art’ in ‘party’: SBMA’s Atelier bash is back for 2014

Test-tube tastings of geographic distillations of time and space are promised at the Botany Bar, inspired by artist Michelle Stuart's seed calendars.COURTESY PHOTOS

Test-tube tastings of geographic distillations of time and space are promised at the Botany Bar, inspired by artist Michelle Stuart’s seed calendars.


Spring is here and Atelier is back at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

The twice-yearly party turns the museum into a fun, interactive night out. The title this time around is “Moons, Mapping, Memory, and Fantastic Machines,” with plenty to keep the visitor occupied over the two hours on Friday.

Atelier replaced the more extensive “Nights” activities at the museum, reducing the number of parties per year, and moving much of the event inside. (In the “Nights” days, the events used to spill out onto the museum’s back patio, where DJs spun tunes until late.)

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ART REVIEW: The Red Depths – Eye-opening Pacifica exhibit explores the secret art of Carl Jung

To paraphrase those Dos Equis ads, the Pacifica Institute doesn’t usually hold art exhibits open to the public, but when it does, it has to be by Carl Jung. After all, without psychologist Jung, this double-campus Institute would probably not exist (all due respect to Joseph Campbell, et al., but you catch my drift.) The irony here is that up until only the last decade, nobody really knew that Dr. Jung was much of an artist.

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IN CONCERT: Ensemble’s Composer John Zalewski on bringing sound to ‘Metamorphoses’

Sound designer John Zalewski

Sound designer John Zalewski

When “Metamorphoses” opens this weekend, one of the stars behind the scenes is its composer, John Zalewski. It’s not often that the Ensemble Theatre Company has such an element in their plays — there’s been music in between scenes and in intermissions, and sometimes music has been used very sparingly to accentuate moods and such, but bringing in Mr. Zalewski is something new.

The Los Angeles composer came to the attention of Ensemble Executive Artistic Director Jonathan Fox through set designer Francois-Pierre Couture. After some email exchanges, the two set to work.

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ART REVIEW: Derelict Dreams – Larry Mills Jr.’s witty snapshots ache with loneliness

'Hampton Beach, NH

Full disclosure up front: Larry Mills Jr. only shares this reviewer’s family name, not his DNA. For a while, Mr. Mills left Santa Barbara for colder climes out east, places that his wife knew well. The move seemed permanent, but as those of us who have waved goodbye to old friends leaving Santa Barbara know happens often, they returned. (Maybe it’s the kind of weekend we had last Saturday). Fortunately for us he brought back his photographs of that time, and very droll they are, for the exhibition, “I’m Over Here,” at Art Resources Framing & Gallery, through March 29.

Subtitled “Two Years of Getting Lost in New England,” this collection of 40 or so photos discover the odd, trash-strewn and God-fearing backside of the region far outside its usual cliches. Hardly an orchard, or a multi-colored autumn tree, is to be seen in Mr. Mills’ work. These are shots of neighborhoods and back alleys, backwaters and abandoned lots that the tourist bureau would rather you not see.

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