Just as medical schools have partnerships with teaching hospitals, art schools can have teaching galleries. In a bungalow tucked back in the southwest corner of the Oxnard College campus, the McNish Gallery hosts shows of contemporary art that enrich the curriculum of the college’s excellent art department. Artist and educator Christine Mora teaches advanced art courses, serves as chair of the art department, and is the director of the McNish.
When asked what sorts of lessons the gallery exhibits offer, Morla said that the possibilities are twofold. The first area is technique: form, composition and various media. Students also have access to diverse cultural statements, particularly nontraditional expression and attitudes. In addition, students have the opportunity to work alongside the artists in designing and hanging the shows.
The current show, Butter and Bone, features the work of artist Sandra Low. Much of Low’s work features food, particularly food that was popular in the 1950s — food that is not likely to whet the viewer’s appetite. To the contrary, a mild feeling of revulsion is evoked by the mounds of melting butter, the greasy piles of spaghetti, lasagna or pancakes. One series of paintings titled “Classy Living” combines familiar, although not appetizing food items with ambiguous structures that might be houses or might be blocks or then again might just be geometric shapes. One has a dollop of melting ice cream dripping down the sides of a house, or then again perhaps it is a piece of cake. Another in this series, “Jiffy pop,” has a strange round shape emerging from a pan (or perhaps a house) with a few kernels of popped corn at the bottom.
In several of the large paintings, figures or objects are clearly depicted in outline but they are covered with melting butter or cheese. One canvas features a football helmet drenched in the greasy goo with the words Hustle Down in large squared-off letters behind the helmet. Another (pictured) depicts a prone sharpshooter, completely covered in something yellow oozing over the entire figure. Behind the figure the word Morass appears above with its reflection below. These images are disturbing, as are those in a series of drawings titled “Casing.” The casings are wrapped bodies and the whimsical things happening to a body, such as being the foundation for sushi, are not what would be expected. Low said that the “Casing” series is her reaction to the seemingly constant stories of mass deaths in hurricanes, earthquakes, revolutions, genocide. We have become inured to seeing wrapped bodies.
“I like being inappropriate,” says Low. “I use collage and parody to pick at the absurdities of living in a consumer society. Humor, pop surrealism and social commentary are consistent threads in my paintings and drawings.” She mentioned that her choice of color, like the varieties of food depicted, echoes the art of the ’60s and ’70s. She has a good idea of the palette she will use before beginning a painting, but may change her idea as a work progresses. When asked about the advice she would give to students, Low said, “If you make art, you should say something worth saying, and it’s all right to have fun.”
Sandra Low’s work typifies the excellence of the three exhibits by contemporary artists that Oxnard College’s McNish Gallery hosts each semester in addition to the one juried show of student art that is presented. These exhibits are not only major teaching events, but also valuable contributions to the cultural life of the community.
Butter and Bone through Oct. 29 at McNish Gallery, Oxnard College Campus, 4000 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard. For more information, visit oxnardcollegeart.wordpress.com.