Let us now praise off-the-beaten-path art venues we might take for granted, but shouldn’t. Take, for a ripe example, the Architectural Foundation Gallery, nestled in a historic house on the corner of Victoria and Santa Barbara streets. The living room/meeting room has also led a healthy double life for many years as a light-filled art gallery, sometimes showcasing work by “off the radar” or less familiar gallery-graced artists.
Official gallery hours are limited to Saturday afternoon, 1-3 p.m., but the “by appointment” clause is more than casual. Barring official board meetings and use of the hall, a weekday gallery visit is just a phone call away.
As it happens, the current exhibition, vibrant painter Nadya Brown’s A Natural Curiosity, makes for ideal summer art-watching. Brown, an English-born artist who lived in Spain and Italy before settling in Santa Barbara, creates paintings with beaming and bustling surfaces, but also with secret agendas beneath the sparkling manners.
In Brown’s art, visions of natural beauty, remembered objects and scenery, travelog-ing, and inviting, warm-spirited interiors are sometimes packed into compounded or imagined contexts. A palette of bright colors, sometimes spilling over into the fluorescent spectrum, further nudges the prospects of realism into realms kissed by fantastical ambience.
Underscoring the gentle and festive scene-making, however, are hints of eco-angst, and concern for environmental fragility. Brown often deals with varied distancing or layering visual effects, sometimes integrating warm interior spaces with visions of dramatic nature observable in the distance, through windows/sensory portals. The dichotomy is in place in such paintings as “View from a Window with Wayne’s Bowls,” “View of the Mountain with Tulips, Oaxaca,” and especially in “The Artist’s Studio with a View of Tenochtitlan,” with the dense artist’s studio — metaphor for the artist’s eye view — peering outward at a slice of culturally loaded nature.
A quartet of small, square-format canvases detail undersea life, including the unwanted intrusion of humanity-introduced detritus into the ocean sanctuary.
Two large triptychs hang on opposite long walls of the gallery, celebrating compositional density for its own sake along with the piled-on references filling and energizing the pictorial space. Intentions are telegraphed in the title of “Simonetta’s Library: a brief history of nature,” with its profusion of objet d’arts, worldly relics, books, actual flowers, and both a large painting of exotic birds and a live exotic bird perched on an antique chair.
Across the room, the triptych “Casa de Cultura, Menorca” also heaps on data, but in a more consciously orderly way, with crisscrossing references to ornithology and ancient mariner life. A laying-on of layers is the MO in these paintings.
In a sudden burst of surreal, witty whimsy — tinged by an environmental reality check — “Snackbar Grackles” mixes affectionate portraits of our bird protagonists with airborne potato chips and French fries. Despite the painting’s clear message, decrying the scourge of litter and unhealthy aviary diets, the non sequitur charm is our strongest takeaway.
Why not? It’s art. It’s summertime. Imagination is the limit, with moral conscience humming in the periphery.