“Her Dress,” by Linda Ekstrom.

WHAT’S MISSING: Sometimes, what you don’t see is just as interesting as what you do. Currently on view at Jane Deering Gallery (25 E. De la Guerra St.), the group show Achromatic Variations concerns itself with that which is missing—faded, lost, or simply invisible.

It’s not just color that’s absent from these works, though they’re all pretty subtle, chromatically speaking. Santa Barbara-based artist Gail Pine has an extensive collection of vintage photographs, and they form the basis of her series The Black Pictures, eight of which are displayed here. Her process involves placing photographic paper directly onto the original image, covering them with glass, and exposing them to light. The result is otherworldly; tiny white figures float against black, inscrutable landscapes.

Across the gallery, there’s a ghostly echo in “Her Dress,” by Linda Ekstrom. The artist has draped a ladder-back chair with a sheet of gauzy, white silk, upon which she has embroidered the outline of an old-fashioned dress. The two-dimensional image folds at the waist as if to sit, though no body fills its puffed sleeves and high-waisted skirt. Once again, it’s the presence of absence that mesmerizes. Nearby, Mary Heebner’s photograph “Specere #2” captures flower petals and stamens in the process of decay. The artist has arranged her subject much as a botanist might display his specimens. Yet with ink and pencil, she transforms a scientific study into something far softer and more lyrical—a record of beauty, as well as of death.

Also on view are works by Ann Diener, whose dense, masterful graphite drawings evoke changing agricultural practices, and Shelley Reed, who reappropriates subjects from the Old Masters in art-historical groupings full of the echoes of their sources. Most minimal of all the works are Geoffrey Bayliss’s untitled monotypes, in which wavering lines evoke bare branches in winter, and Marie Schoeff’s Autograph series, in which organic forms emerge in just a few strokes, simple and unaffected as drawings from a nondominant hand. Achromatic Variations runs through May 28.

Lee Weiser's "Ocean Tossed Buddha".

ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BUDDHA-FUL: Around these parts, it seems like everybody loves the Buddha. His popularity continues to drive the annual Buddha Abides juried group show, now in its 11th year. This time, it’s hanging at a new venue: Santa Barbara Frame Shop and Gallery (1324 State St.) through May 30.

It’s a particularly eclectic show this year, with more conceptual offerings than in years past. Meganne Forbes’s poster-sized figurative watercolors “Light of God” and “Buddha with Hummingbird” typify the more literal approach to Bodhisattva depiction, but then there’s William O’Malley’s “Sending and Receiving,” in which strands of prayer flags festoon a cell-phone tower. A plastic grasshopper trapped in a bottle tries to keep its feet above the water line in Dan Levin’s “Patience Young Brother”—there’s gotta be a Zen lesson in there somewhere—and Mark McIntyre gives us the U.S.A. in patches of red and blue, split down the middle and bandaged together with bits of Tibetan script. Of course, there are many variations on the Buddhist mandala’s swirling, trance-inducing circular patterns. The most unusual of these is Ethan Turpin’s photo collage “Buzzard Hill: Summer Solstice on Ballard Fields Ranch, 12:00 p.m., 2003,” in which the artist himself appears seated on the parched grass. We see him from various angles and in limited frames—shirt collar, chin and lip, hiking boot—before the eye is drawn inward, over a landscape of sun-bleached bones, into an oak-studded valley, and finally into the center of the spiral: a pale blue sky dotted with hexagonal sun flares.

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU: Speaking of mandalas, there’s a chance to see the real thing this week at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1130 State St.). Between May 17 and 21, four monks from the Sera Mahayana Buddhist Monastery in South India will work to create a Sand Mandala of Compassion, which will be on view to the public each day until its ritual dismantling on Sunday, May 22, at 3 p.m.


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