Astrid Preston's  'Blossoms'  Her work appears at the Craig Krull Gallery  on Jan. 26.

Astrid Preston’s ‘Blossoms’ Her work appears at the Craig Krull Gallery on Jan. 26.

“A winter’s day, in a deep and dark December… .” When stricken by the sentiment evoked by these Paul Simon lyrics, the best antidote for me is art.

My eyes were filled with it, and the joy it can create, during a recent drop-in at Bergamot Station. If you ever encounter a person gazing alone, shamelessly emoting “ooh, ahhh, and wow” aloud, it’s probably me. I find that some art just brings out the part of my soul subject to irrepressible gushing.

I was drawn in by the upcoming Astrid Preston “New Territory” exhibit at Craig Krull Gallery, which doesn’t open until Jan. 26, but is a show you must make every effort to view — www.craigkrullgallery.com.

This Swedish-born artist lives in Santa Monica and creates achingly beautiful, starkly dramatic and deeply detailed paintings of trees on wood panel and canvas, that look at once both hyper-real and fantastic and will take your breath away.

Nature is her subject and she honors it with intensely colored and enhanced visions that, for me, border on the mystical. I cannot wait for this show to open, but to give you a taste now, visit www.astridpreston.com and you’ll see what makes me so excited about her work.

Craig Krull also has a few pieces at the reception desk by two other artists I am enamored with. Nancy Monk’s miniatures make me wish I lived inside her head. What an imagination, to create such little gems of patterns, colors, shapes, and decorated antique stereoscope cards, all so small you could carry away a pile of them and form a vast collection in which no one work looks like any another. I wish I could build a museum at home to house these tiny treasures so I could be as giddy everyday as they made me feel in the gallery — www.nancymonk.com.

And like Astrid Preston, Pam Posey’s artistry takes its inspiration from nature. At the reception desk, small pieces of split wood have had their sides sheared to a straight plane, and over a lightly colored background, Posey applies watercolor and pencil to create delicate tree trunks, branches and leaves in a style reminiscent of Japanese master wood block artists. The wood’s own grain is integrated in these works.

But another revelation to be found on her website is a series of oil and watercolor paintings, which I interpret as being inspired by “the force that through the green fuse” (Dylan Thomas), of weeds pushing up through cracks in driveways, close-ups of vegetables beginning to bloom and roots with rot, in a magical melding of realism and abstraction, displaying life forces at both ends of the spectrum — www.pamposey.com.

At Leslie Sacks Contemporary, intricately etched work by Joanne Lefrak contains a narrative. One element of the show, “Treasure Sites,” follows the story of the pirate Blackbeard, one of his wives and the treasure he left behind.

Lefrak’s method of production is remarkable. She begins with a photograph she has taken, then enlarges and lays it out over a piece of clear Plexiglas and etches into it the contours, shapes and lines of the photo. Then, when hung close to the wall, the light passing through creates a photorealistic, delicate, ghostly shadow image of the story she tells. It’s a beautiful otherworldly effect, a negative becoming a positive.

The Bluebeard series is just one of the narratives. The fabled pirate, noted for killing his wives, leaves wife number 14 on an island off the coast of New Hampshire; promising to return, he buries a secret treasure on the island. Shortly thereafter, he is killed, and his wife’s ghost haunts the islands and coves, where she can be heard howling his name in the wind. Later, it is said, some of the pieces of silver floated ashore.

You cannot capture these works in print. You must see them in person to understand the impact that light and shadow have upon the imagery. Visit lesliesackscontemporary.com for details on gallery hours.

And in the realm of ceramic art, nobody does it better than Frank Lloyd Gallery. “Frank’s International House of Ceramics” is a mind-blower, ranging from the rough and earthen to the highly constructed, just a remarkable display of what great artists can do with the malleable medium called clay.

Akio Takamori’s figurative, yet cartoonish piece evokes an adult reaction: a female nude lying on her side, alongside a satyr-like creature; they are blissfully unaware of being viewed by an audience. Hard to believe this is ceramic; it looks like wood cutouts.

Ralph Bacerra creates impossibly complex hand-built vessels of geometric shapes coated with shiny metallic glazes that have been fired numerous times to achieve the brilliance of the sheen on each of the surfaces. They’re works of fantasy, each sharp or rounded nook revealing another level of patterned detail. These pieces feel psychedelically inspired but are highly disciplined.

And at Skidmore Contemporary Art, take a trip down Route 66 without even driving. This group show features some highly-idealized pop-arty photorealistic works that showcase the cool. Cheryl Kelley’s deep burgundy Lincoln automobile is oil painted on aluminum that allows the surface reflectivity to ramp up considerably from ordinary painterly tricks.

Robert Townsend elevates the ordinary — a box of old birthday candles, a motel postcard boasting of its many amenities, a broken pack of matches — rendering them in oils, watercolors and photographic prints until they achieve iconic stature.

And lastly, congratulations to G. Bruce Smith, who just retired as Santa Monica College’s public information officer.

His play, “Heart Mountain,” performed for sold-out audiences during its recent run at SMC. It was selected from 179 plays submitted by 55 western colleges and universities as one of seven productions to be presented at the 2013 Regional Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival.

This multi-media production dramatizes the story of a family’s struggles in a World War II Japanese internment camp, using dance and movement inspired by Butoh, along with audio-visual material.

Before being presented at the festival (Feb. 13 — 15 at Los Angeles Theatre Center), SMC will offer fundraising performances Friday through Sunday, Feb. 1 — 3 in the Theatre Arts Studio Stage on campus.

Tickets and more info at (310) 434-4319.

 

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

 

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