FROM CALIFORNIA’S SHORES: In Greek mythology, Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, emerged from the sea foam fully grown. From Botticelli to Bouguereau, artists have taken Aphrodite as their subject, striving to capture the very moment when beauty herself was born.
In John Nava’s recent series of paintings on display at Sullivan Goss (7 E. Anapamu St.), Aphrodite is reimagined as a modern, string-bikini clad California girl. While some of his canvases feature empty beachscapes or dogs cavorting in the surf, the majority of this show is devoted to 21st-century Venuses—clearly modeled on specific young women—standing or crouching on familiar beaches, sometimes with oil derricks faintly visible on the horizon. Classical references are evident here, particularly in works like “Summerland Rhodes 1,” in which the model’s twisted, kneeling position and the way she lifts the hair from her neck evoke figures like the Crouching Aphrodite of Rhodes from the 1st century BCE.
To the modern viewer, realistic figurative depictions of nearly naked young women elicit a range of responses, some of them uncomfortable. Many of these subjects meet the viewer’s gaze with impassive coolness, arms at their sides, palms facing forward—somewhere between an ancient Greek kore and Barbie. Closer viewing diminishes the initial impulse to be creeped out; between Nava’s painstaking method of sanding away top layers to create a fresco effect and his careful observance of golden-triangle geometry, there’s evidence here of a modern master once again taking female beauty as his muse.
Next door, in Sullivan Goss’s Messick Gallery, don’t miss a series of late-19th- and early-20th-century sketches and paintings by Santa Barbara treasure and American impressionist Colin Campbell Cooper. Just across the room, you’ll find the early-20th-century paintings of Lockwood de Forest, some of which take the Santa Barbara landscape as their subject. The de Forest exhibit is up through March 28; Campbell Cooper and Nava are up through the end of this month.
CLIFF TOPS AND CLIFFSNOTES: Perched on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and boasting one of the best academic programs of its kind in the nation, Santa Barbara City College is one of our region’s crowning jewels. To learn more about the college’s history, swing by City Hall (735 Anacapa St.) between now and May 28. There you’ll find an exhibit of historical photographs and notes commemorating SBCC through the ages, from Thomas Dibblee’s initial purchase and development of the oceanfront property in 1888 to Andreea Serban’s inauguration as SBCC president last year. Shots of peppy cheerleaders circa 1960 and goofy, red-and-white beanies for the 1966 new-student orientation are among the highlights.
’SCAPES OF THE WEST: This month, the walls of the S.B. Public Library’s Faulkner Gallery (40 E. Anapamu St.) are positively crammed with landscape paintings. There’s justification for the crunch: The show is put on by SCAPE—Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment—and 40 percent of any sales made goes to benefit the Santa Barbara Land Trust. Many of the works depict the very places they aim to protect, from the Arroyo Hondo Preserve of the Gaviota Coast to the Sedgwick Reserve of North County to the Coronado Butterfly Preserve at Ellwood. Among the real stunners in this show is Ellen Yeomans’s “Ellwood Autumn,” in which a brilliant red-orange earth rises to meet the soft folds of the mountains, and a few dark birds pierce the pale sky. Carrie Givens’s pastel, “Ellwood Trail,” captures the play of shadow and light beneath eucalyptus trees, and John Rowbottom’s “Fairview Garden Shed” renders its subject in bright, lively strokes but cool, earthy tones.
For a seascape nonpareil, stop in at Patty Look Lewis Gallery (25 E. De la Guerra St.), where Roy Fowler’s large-scale paintings break the swell and arch of waves into nearly abstract patterns of blue, indigo, and violet, yet retain a sense of enormous kinetic energy.