Selected Art Reviews

Wosene Worke Kosrof ’s and Sidney Gordon’s work in Juxtaposed at Sullivan Goss through February 21st, 2022. Photo courtesy of Sullivan Goss

Pairings for Art’s Sake

By Josef Woodard / VOICE – January 7, 2022

Just in time for a new year, a new hope and a harbinger of wished-for continuity, Sullivan Goss kicks off with a main gallery exhibition looking both inward and out. As suggested by its title, Juxtaposed: The Art of Curation is a show in which the very art of curation is central to the end effect. As art presentation dictates, guiding curatorial forces follow a creative collective heart, behind the art on the walls, but this time in a self-conscious way.

Rather than heed a theme, era, or style by any traditional curatorial dictates, the Sullivan Goss team – owner Nathan Vonk, gallery director Jeremy Tessmer, and contemporary curator Susan Bush – gathered heads and eyes to choose pieces from the gallery’s collection and find suitable, and surprisingly compatible artworks despite the diversity at hand. The resulting exhibition behaves as an introductory show for the year, and an introductory sampler/primer to what Sullivan Goss is about and what makes it special.

Most of the names in the show have had presences in the gallery, some over years and with significant solo shows here – as in the case of Hank Pitcher and Nicole Strasburg. But reshuffled context sheds a new light on specific artworks. 

In one example, Strasburg’s small See Green, a deceptively calm and compact entry in last year’s solo show Sea Changes, is “grounded” in a large area of sand in its compositional scheme, with water/waves seen only as a faint horizontal strip at the top. In what amounts to a kinship of hypnotic simplicity and linear poetry, her piece hangs next to Emerson Woelffer’s 1966 Untitled—Zen, with its thick calligraphic swipe in vertical formation.

Pitcher’s own take on sea matters, in the small multi-colored painting 12-31-2000, shares a horizontal versus vertical relationship and similar color palette with Joseph Goldyne’s vaporous wisp of color in his painting with the punning title I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great (Spenders). One also observes the divergent concepts in the pairing: Pitcher’s wavescape painting leans into abstraction, while Goldyne’s pushes an abstract gesture towards a suggestion of elemental, natural forces.

At times, these intriguing pairings tend to define the gallery’s spatial configuration. In one corner, Ethiopian-in-Berkeley artist Wosene Worke Kosroff’s lively, color-infused and, yes, highly rhythmic Birth of Music—II hints at influences of music loving proto-abstractionist Vasily Kandinsky and jazz-jabbed Stuart Davis, while using linguistic shards from the indigenous script of the artist’s home country. Its kinetic energy is reflected, in unexpected ways, in the neighboring piece, Sidney Gordin’s jagged dance of a metal sculpture, 7-12-57.

Follow your eye and body to the opposite gallery corner, and things go dark, artfully. Moodily muted visual airs inform Natalie Arnoldi’s airplane-in-night-fog painting Expectation, sharing a piece of gallery wall real estate with the enigmatic riverbend image (and metaphor) Night River.

Other juxtaposed visions plumb various sensory and thematic linkages between odd couplings of art. Airs of elegance enter the equation in the connection between super-realist painter Leslie Lewis Sigler’s shimmeringly veracious silver spoon and Betty Lane’s 1929 oddly-posed and poised Woman in Chair. Idealized dimensions bubble up in Angelo Perko’s Rousseau-esque dream Night Bloom and Maria Rendon’s slightly hallucinatory Red River.

A bit of era-crossing local art history also rears its head in the matching of witty and enterprising young sculptor Nathan Huff (who had a show in the gallery last fall) and the influential sculptor/assemblage artist/teacher Ron Robertson, master balancer of the orderly-yet-funky. Rust – and its textural and poetic qualities – never sleeps for either artist, as seen in Huff’s surreal and abstractly anecdotal Still Point and Robertson’s Rainbow, with its Chromatic Gate-like color maze and coiled spring/spiral at the core. 

 Consider Juxtaposed something of a portrait of a gallery, and its in-house curatorial voices. 


Josef Woodard is a veteran cultural critic, who wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 25 years, has contributed to Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, DownBeat, and many music magazines, and a long association with the Santa Barbara Independent and News-Press. To date, he has published two books for Silman-James Press, on jazz legends Charles Lloyd and Charlie Haden, respectively. He recently published a debut novel, Ladies Who Lunch. Woodard is also a musician, a guitarist, songwriter, and head of the Household Ink Records label.

A Brief Conversation by Jo Merit, part of the Abstract Art Collective's 10th Anniversary Exhibition at REH Grayspace in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone.

10th Anniversary Exhibition

By Daisy Scott / VOICE – January 7, 2022

Dancing lines, compelling sculptures, and shapes resembling images one may see in their dreams adorn the walls of REH GraySpace Gallery this month as the Abstract Art Collective hosts its 10th Anniversary Exhibition. Featuring the works of over 60 individuals, this exhibition not only serves as a celebration of abstract art as a style, but highlights the sheer talent of our local  community. The show will remain on view through January 28th, with a special public reception from 4pm to 7:30pm on Saturday, January 8th. 

“There is something for everyone… if you love bright color, you’ll find a wall of drama. If your palette choice is soft and ethereal you won’t be disappointed, and there are a few surprises in the mix,” said exhibition curator and AAC member Joyce Wilson. “The exhibition is a beautiful display of unique art that will engage the viewer in examination and dialog.” 

Established by local artists J.T. Turner and Thore Engren, the AAC promotes awareness and appreciation for abstract art and artists throughout Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. The group also regularly hosts exhibitions and partakes in events that support area non-profits. Beginning with just twelve members, the group has rapidly grown to include over 100 artists who work in varying mediums. 

This January’s 10th Anniversary Exhibition serves as a testament to these artists’ talent as individual creators and as a collective. And, after close to two years of creating art amidst a pandemic, the show will provide viewers and artists alike the opportunity to engage with original works on an intimate, in-person basis. 

“The Abstract Art Collective survives because it ‘rolls with the punches,’” commented AAC Board Co-Chair Eugene Galles. “When the pandemic first hit, we switched gears to increase our virtual presence. Through online events such as lectures and art critiques, we strengthened our community and eased the pain of isolation. Interestingly, the anniversary show will be the first time some members will be meeting in person.”

Upon entering REH GraySpace Gallery, visitors are immediately surrounded by walls of bold, original paintings, prints, sculptures, photography, assemblages, and collages that reflect the individual skills and perspective of each artist. Rather than center the show around a unifying theme, AAC members were asked to submit two works for consideration. Local artist Rick Stich then selected one piece from each submission, with Wilson curating the works into a comprehensive exhibition. 

Each displayed work possesses a distinctive energy, utilizing shapes, swirls, colors, and represented movement that evoke different emotional responses in viewers. Some works can be clearly interpreted as abstract interpretations of familiar sights, such as an ocean shoreline or a person wearing sunglasses. Others forgo real world similarities entirely, instead capturing unique feelings and ideas within their brushstrokes. 

“Curating the show was a unique challenge [in] pairing arrangements with like sensibilities and juxtaposing color so the viewer is drawn into each grouping and lingers to explore individual pieces,” shared Wilson. 

Gallery visitors who attend the AAC’s public reception will also be able to enjoy premium, handcrafted wines from Dark Water Winery as they explore the gallery. 

REH GraySpace Gallery, 210 Gray Ave. • Open 1pm to 5pm, Fridays – Sundays, and by appt. • 

Lina Wertmüller directing Pasqualino #2, 1975. Inkjet print, by Santi Visalli. Courtesy the artist.

Santi Visalli at 90: Una Storia, through March 13th, Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Small Pictures Telling Big Stories

By Josef Woodard / VOICE, December 31, 2021

When last we caught general public sight of the renowned veteran photographer – and long-time Santa Barbaran – Santi Visalli, he was lighting up the big screen. Film director Andy Davis, also a long-time Santa Barbaran, created the charming short documentary Mentors: Tony and Santi, which premiered at the 2020 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Davis’s doc neatly captures the camaraderie, legacies, and swaths of history related to Visalli and another Santa Barbara-landed photographer of note, Tony Vaccaro.

Now we get a close-up view of the Visalli’s work and skilled eye in one of the first exhibitions of the re-opened Santa Barbara Museum of Art, upstairs in its photography and digital media section. In the show Santi Visalli at 90: Una Storia, the primary subjects are ostensibly famous figures in the frames, mostly shot for high-profile magazines in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But, as with all good portraiture, the eye and touch of the artist is also a critical part of what makes each picture hum.

This selection of 29 black-and-white images presents a broad assortment of celebrities, from varied corners of the cultural spectrum. Occasionally, the subjects are seen in discernibly posed settings, but more often, are caught in their respective creative acts. From the world of international cinema titans, Fellini is seen on the set of his 1975 film Casanova; Francois Truffaut, in costume, on the set of The Wild Child; and stylish Italian firebrand Lina Wertmuller, cutting a striking figure while making Pasqualino.

Leonard Bernstein and Franco Zefferelli are busy in the midst of the Metropolitan Opera’s 1970 production of Cavaleria Rusticana, whereas the handsome and imperious maestro Herbert von Karajan is portrayed in a handsomely composed and lit portrait shot. That visage is in stark cultural contrast to the kitsch snack of a shot from TV’s Batman, which is from yet another part of the cultural universe from an elegant shot of Ella Fitzgerald directly across the gallery. In Visalli’s starkly beautiful shot, the spotlight-bathed Fitzgerald appears like a regal, radiant presence against the black backdrop/void. 

Visalli’s intimate shots, with insights into personae of celebrated public persons, grab the eye and heart in diverse ways. Counter-culture visions include Timothy Leary, as tripping mystic, alongside a voyeuristic peek into the home of Allen Ginsberg, who is espied in a feverish moment of writing. Andy Warhol appears characteristically cool and vacant, behind dark glass and a copy of the Village Voice. Marlon Brando, in a suit at dinner, looks pensive and aloof, next to the dreamily lost Sharon Tate, and Sophia Loren and Cher disparately donning excessive eye make-up.

In a clever exhibition design touch, three adjacent images on the walls feature images of icons with their right hands held high. Luciano Pavarotti raises his hand in sync with what we assume is a high note he’s hitting, while a typically beaming Louis Armstrong extends his hand in presumed greeting to admirers. Frank Sinatra, in concert, points upward for dramatic effect, as if singling out a particularly fetching woman in the balcony, or maybe a heckler.

An air of mystery and unfinished contextual business naturally applies to the moment-stilling nature of photography, good or otherwise. Needless to say, Visalli’s work is very good, indeed.

Josef Woodard is a veteran cultural critic, who wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 25 years, has contributed to Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, DownBeat, and many music magazines, and a long association with the Santa Barbara Independent and News-Press. To date, he has published two books for Silman-James Press, on jazz legends Charles Lloyd and Charlie Haden, respectively. He recently published a debut novel, Ladies Who Lunch. Woodard is also a musician, a guitarist, songwriter, and head of the Household Ink Records label.

Wild Horses of Nevada, 1927 by Maynard Dixon (1875–1946). From the Collection of the Karges Family Trust Carmel, CA

Art review: Borein and his Circle of Friends, at Santa Barbara Historical Museum, through January 22, 2022

Cowboys, Frontiers and Brushstrokes

By Josef Woodard / VOICE, December 3, 2021

Edward Borein owns his own niche in Santa Barbara’s art history, and beyond. And the story of the cowboy turned famed cowboy/western artist (1872–1945) continues. 

Fans and curiosity seekers can swing by the actual Borein art studio in the El Paseo complex, where he worked for many years and even left an unfinished painting of his grandly poetic finale canvas, a fond portrait of steers before a dramatic sunset. That very canvas was left undisturbed on its host easel by his widow, Lucille, for a decade, before being bequeathed to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and is now a centerpiece of the official, dedicated Edward Borein Gallery, the next logical stop on a Borein legacy-seeking trek.

Elsewhere in the gallery, a sizable set of small watercolor pieces – supplied by an anonymous Santa Barbaran family – demonstrates the artist’s fluid skill in the care, feeding, and portraiture of the American cowboy life and mythos. In the main, the emphasis of this set of modest pieces is on cowboys at work, in peaceful settings, with an occasional “action shot,” such as Roping a Steer, with lasso in mid-air and animalia in dramatically leaning, off-ground states in furtive motion. Scattered amidst the watercolors are images of vaqueros and occasional native Americans.

More to the point of recent exhibition life in town, the museum, rising up out of the forced hiatus of its pandemic-mandated downtime, currently hosts a generous show of paintings by fellow artists with Santa Barbara connections, under Borein and his Circle of Friends. The showcase exhibition manages to put Borein in a larger context of regional art, while also pulling back the lens to give a forum for early 20th century artists from our midst.

But who was this famed local cowboy artist? Borein came from a distinctly different and more conservative perspective than a later generational kingpin of the rustic-rancher art set Channing Peake, Santa Barbara County’s “cowboy cubist.” Clearly, Borein was an outlier in terms of the bubbling cauldron of new concepts and practices in modern art painting of his early-to-mid 20th century heyday. 

He was a star in the artistic subculture – or fringe zone – of “Western art,” unabashedly nostalgic for a romantic ideal of the frontier and an age before abstraction muddied the waters of representation in painting. It seems entirely apt that, at the entrance of the circle exhibition, we find Borein hobnobbing with Walt Disney and Leo “Cisco Kid” Carrillo, of western movies fame.

A bit oddly, the only direct painterly presence of Borein in the exhibition Borein and his Circle of Friends, curated by Marlene R. Miller, comes in the form of a formidable, but downhome portrait of the artist, in hat and chaps and flanked by a saddle, painted by Greek-born but Santa Barbara-settled artist Spencer Bagdatopoulos. The portrait greets the visitor, like a grand gesture of welcome, then passing the spotlight to a range of art by Borein’s Santa Barbara-linked contemporaries.

Carl Oscar Borg’s romantic paintings of cowboys at work, old school style, contrasts with Joe de Young’s Traffic in Yellowstone, slyly juxtaposing cowboy-hatted horseback riders with 1950s-vintage automobiles wending through the park on paved roads. Another often-exhibited local artist of historical note, Colin Campbell Cooper, is seen via two views of Spanish themes: one surveys the grandeur of the Avila Cathedral in the “old” Spain, while the painting A Santa Barbara Courtyard (1925) represents local color, and a vision of the “new Spain.”

Though largely in traditional landscape painting form and dealing with familiar tropes of “western art,” there are hints of Modernist influence here, particularly in the impressive painter Maynard Dixon’s 1927 painting Wild Horses of Nevada probably the Best of Show here. A diagonal wedge of a herd, as if viewed from an aerial perspective, asserts itself into the arid desert ground, echoing similarly-shaped shadows, hinting at life outside the painting’s pictorial space. Abstraction and formal ideas are laid into the content itself.

Across the gallery, James Swinnerton’s After the Storm marshals its energy and mystique from the dramatic play of desertscape and brooding storm clouds overhead. Between this nature-enhanced drama on canvas and Borein’s steers heading into the sunset canvas over in the Borein gallery, we get a compact overview of life in archival Santa Barbara art circles, the wild west, and the comforting embrace of Western Art’s aura of American-stamped romanticism. 


Josef Woodard is a veteran cultural critic, who wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 25 years, has contributed to Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, DownBeat, and many music magazines, and a long association with the Santa Barbara Independent and News-Press. To date, he has published two books for Silman-James Press, on jazz legends Charles Lloyd and Charlie Haden, respectively. He recently published a debut novel, Ladies Who Lunch. Woodard is also a musician, a guitarist, songwriter, and head of the Household Ink Records label.