A FORMAL INVITATION: The current show at the Arts Fund, A Formal Affaire: Art-Making in Black & White, was organized by Nancy Gifford and Catherine Gee to complement the organization’s anniversary fundraising gala, but you don’t need to have been at the event, or even have been invited, to get down to the Funk Zone and appreciate another outstanding testament to the vitality of the work being done in our city circa 2013. While adhering to the black-and-white theme set out by the curators, the work on display runs the gamut in both size and style, from the exquisite panache of Joan Rosenberg-Dent’s “Five Dancers,” a set of black ceramic wraiths, each of which measures less than a foot tall, to Austin Danson’s “Chrysanthemum,” an epic Sumi ink painting on paper that’s 14 feet wide and nine feet tall. Not all the works adhere strictly to the rules for color — Peggy Ferris has smuggled in a touch of red via her oil on canvas painting “Genesis,” and Richard Aber, whose monumental composition (“painting” doesn’t cover it) “Carbon #38” takes up an entire wall, manages to make shades of gray and black suggest the softness and hints of blue one associates with the night sky. Tony Askew contributes several outstanding prints, all monotypes in oil on paper, one of which takes its theme and title from the event itself. “A Formal Affaire” — Askew’s print, not the party — depicts a man’s shirt and tie in black-and-white and was apparently created by running actual articles of clothing through the press. It’s a simple enough concept, which means that all the impact lies in its artful execution, and there is plenty of that. This elegant print could stand as a symbol of what’s best about the social life in our sweet solar metropolis, as it is at once proper and relaxed, sophisticated and unpretentious.

Julika Lackner, Spectral Phase #1

NORTHERN PAINTER OF SOUTHERN LIGHT: Over at the Mertens Fine Art gallery on Coast Village Road in Montecito, there’s a substantial show of paintings old and new by Julika Lackner. Lackner, who grew up partly here and partly in Berlin, is one of the hottest young painters in Southern California, and this show is not to be missed by those who like their art to be sensual, intelligent, and rapturous. Lackner’s style as an abstract painter developed through rigorous training as a representational artist, and in particular as a painter of landscapes. Close attention to adjacent color values remains a major factor in such recent series as the Spectral Phases, several of which are on view. These large canvases combine the abstract energy fields of Barnett Newman’s “zip” paintings with a touch and technique that’s all new. For one thing, Lackner uses a kind of beaded line that allows her to inflect the surface with small lozenge-shaped dots of color. This nearly pointillist technique shouldn’t work alongside the severe demands of the stripes and their geometry, but it does. The effect is akin to stepping into a rainbow or wearing a halo made of natural light. Lackner’s preferred medium of acrylic paint also allows her to create brilliant splashes of metallic reflection, visual elements that cause the large canvases to undergo radical shifts as the viewer crosses their field of influence. Whether the zips are verticals, as in Spectral Phases numbers one and two, or horizontal, as in the yellow toned “Spectral Phase 8,” their unimpeded passage from one unframed edge of the canvas to the other conveys a sense of transcendence. Take the discipline and spiritual yearning of the Northern landscape tradition, and then set it adrift in the brilliant, swirling, and fragrant mists of an evaporating Santa Barbara marine layer, and you’ll have some idea of what pleasures await in this excellent and enlightening exhibit.

TASTE AND SEE ART: Taste Wine Bar, located on Cota between State and Anacapa, is a very pleasant place to try and to buy excellent wines, and it is also an art gallery, with both businesses tended by the affable Richard Perez. The show currently on display — Scott Burchard’s swirling, shiny, Pollock-like abstractions — makes a great counterpoint to a nice glass of syrah.


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