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Plein Air, Updated

New Landscapes at Gallery Ocho.


The paramount philosophy at the brand new Gallery Ocho-an intimate, sun-washed space in Victoria Court-is art should not only be collected but enjoyed, and pieces should be observant, relevant, and available even to the uninitiated. Husband-and-wife owners Anna and Casson Demmon are well versed in and passionate about art, yet eschew exclusivity.

Art has a problem of limited accessibility because of haughtiness that people want to add to the concept of high art,” explained Casson. “Galleries in California are a lot less pretentious than in New York.”

Opening their Santa Barbara gallery marks a homecoming of sorts for the Westmont graduates. After nearly 10 years in New York, the Demmons returned to open a gallery in which the urban sensibilities of the East Coast are tailored to fit Santa Barbara’s singular vibe.

The works featured in New Landscapes, Gallery Ocho’s inaugural ensemble show, give a tongue-in-cheek nod to Santa Barbara’s plein air tradition. “All the pieces have ‘landscape aspects,’” Casson verbally winks. Each is indeed a landscape, but redefined with a contemporary twist.

At first blush, Warren Holt’s complex “Sunset (L¼beck)” appears to be a skillfully executed photograph of dappled light in the forest. Further inspection of the diffuse, ephemeral softness of the setting sun and delicately layered branches reveals a photorealistic oil painting.

Nicholas Gaffney’s digital C-prints incorporate playful, irreverent elements of surprise. In “Thirteen Ways (III),” a startling wolf mask snarls beneath the bare branches and browned leaves of a snow-laden tree, discomfiting the viewer and disrupting an otherwise serene winter wonderland.

Like an advent calendar delineated in oils, each tiny window of Emily Sartor’s “Mama’s by the River” offers a voyeuristic peek into the tumultuous, intricately detailed world of a house being ravaged by water. Her dramatic “Duckblind” creates a sense of depth that allows the viewer to peer into a dangerously seductive forest, drawn by the glowing light emanating from the ramshackle hideaway in the gnarled trees.

The digital photographs of both Tad Wagner and Ryan Kitson suggest a point-and-shoot sensibility, but share a clean aesthetic, a deft perspective, and a practiced sense of composition.

Despite its compact proportions, Gallery Ocho cultivates stylistic variety in its collections and the artists it represents. Although the current exhibition features primarily New York artists, the Demmons intend to showcase both regional artists and those from further afield, both emerging and established, at a range of prices accessible to aficionados of all kinds.

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Gallery Ocho is located at Suite 8 in Victoria Court (1221 State St.). Call 965-3054 or visit galleryocho.com.

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