There is no stronger or more mysterious emotion than love. It thrusts itself into the forefront, it disguises itself, it takes on many forms and it means different things to different people. Love may be the most difficult emotion to attempt to make tangible, yet that is just what Patrons, Lovers and Other Romantics, the current exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Forum, aspires to do.
Patrons features the "HeART work" of 60 artists, ranging in origin from Santa Barbara to London. Their mission is to create Valentines that express love. The artists succeed, especially as a whole, by communicating a spectrum of views that varies from artist to artist. And, with no boundaries on form, even the similar pieces take on a life of their own.
Among the more prominent forms of love displayed are those of a cheesy, high school sweetheart nature. These compositions might not be interesting by themselves, but they are appropriate in context. Tom Stanley’s "Love Trophy 2001," for instance, is a square base with a heart where you would usually find a baseball or basketball player. Equally silly are mixed media pictures of a horse running on a heart-filled background and gray hands holding colorful, heart-shaped rocks.
The most common theme among Patrons is sex, which can be a physical act of love or a vain attempt to find love. The boisterous sexual works really stick out. Penelope Gottlieb’s "Peep Show #3" appears to be a chest with pictures of houses on the sides and a padlock keeping it closed. Upon closer inspection there is a peephole that gives a view of two dolls having sex on a couch in a small room. Susan Tibbles’ "Do Not Disturb Us" assemblage is an antique-looking heart covered in Valentine poems. Wings are screwed on the top of the heart near the sides, and a doorknob and keyhole take prominence in the middle. What really makes it interesting is the Polaroid picture pinned to the wall by the heart. The picture shows two women kissing with their faces outlined by a heart.
Alternative expressions of love not usually associated with Valentine’s Day also have their place in the exhibit and prove to be particularly engaging. Paintings of cats and TV antennas both turn the focus from interpersonal affection, but the best of this sort is Mary LaPorte’s "Ex-Voto #10." This oil-on-metal painting depicts an obese woman alone on her knees with a dark cloud hovering over a table of food behind her. She is praying to a skinny woman in a bright white cloud. Handwritten text below the painting reveals that she is praying to St. Vanna (White?), asking to lead her away from "eternal temptations of indulgence." This piece gives a perspective of the Valentine’s Day shunned, which is needed in this mostly blissful exhibit.
Besides a few Photoshopped pictures that really don’t fit it in with the rest of the exhibit, Patrons, Lovers and Other Romantics is an outstanding show of Valentine’s Day-influenced work. With its wide array of ideas, it’s an exhibit that can be appreciated by everyone, not just couples.
Patrons, Lovers and Other Romantics is on display until Feb. 10. Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara. Open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.