Rod Lathim conjures a lost world in this assemblage show, and that world is part old Santa Barbara, part family, and all poetry and imagination. These accomplished and sophisticated pieces are loaded with rare objects and photos and lovingly assembled in a state that Lathim likens to meditation. Some, like “The Boy Wonder,” are fanciful self-portraits that combine mysterious photos with other old stuff that appeals to Lathim, including, in this instance, a rubber toy car, lots of beautiful antique type, and a drafting compass. Others, like “Drop of Love,” memorialize family members such as Lathim’s grandmother, Helen Brown Manwill, whose photo is surmounted by an old-fashioned water tap symbolizing her generosity and nurturing presence.
An actor, a singer, a writer, a storyteller, and a community activist, Lathim uses these found-object compositions as a way of exploring the moods and emotions contained for him in old photos and memorabilia. He credits friend and artist Megan Kitchen with getting him to believe in himself as a visual artist, and the loyal group centered around Art From Scrap for mentoring him in the craft.
The craft is everywhere in evidence in this show, from the meticulous placement and finish of each individual piece to the easy movement of kinetic piano hammers that radiate from “Portal.” Lathim’s cityscapes are among his most compelling creations. In “Alphabet City,” the title seems to refer to the large blocks of type that nestle amid the other ephemera assembled to intimate city life. Lathim describes his urban vision as a cross between Frank Gehry and Jeff Shelton, a friend of Lathim’s from his schoolboy days growing up in Santa Barbara.
“All Wound Up” nicely embodies the contradictions and whimsy of Reinventions. A rather sinister-looking baby doll head is rendered at once abstract, industrial, and somehow sympathetic by opening up the back of her skull to reveal a nest of notched gears and clock springs. In “Visual Awakening,” Buster Keaton’s eyes peer out at you like the symbolic spectacles of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In fact, the whole show, in part because of the materials, but just as much because of the extraordinary feeling for history and sense of imagination that Lathim brings to each piece, speaks across the decades from a place around the turn of the 19th century.