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October 14, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, October 14, 2005

A trio from the teachers A trio from the teachers (October 14, 2005)

Joint exhibit at CSMA invites questions on the function of art

By Molly Tanenbaum

What do the Mona Lisa, a Rorschach test, and a teapot have in common? A new, thought-provoking art exhibit featuring three artists at the Community School of Music and Arts challenges all of these familiar forms, and asks questions about the interpretability of art.

Bryn Pennington, Lori Coan and Hua Zhang, all three of them CSMA faculty members, employ varied styles, techniques and media -- Pennington works in mixed media, Coan in ceramics and Zhang in lithographs. But each artist will tell you that their work is meant to be interpreted, to spark ideas, questions and feelings, even beyond the artist's original intent.

The exhibit, which opened Oct. 4, will remain at CSMA's Mohr Gallery through Nov. 28, and is meant to appeal to all ages.

Pennington, a Los Altos native and graduate of Mountain View High School, has taught at CSMA for almost four years. Her body of work displayed in this exhibit, entitled "Mona Lisa Series," explores what happens when a common, recognizable form is placed in unexpected contexts.

"It's that kind of flexibility I'm looking for in the imagery," Pennington said, "taking a simple form, the most familiar form in art, the Mona Lisa, and extending that form in unfamiliar ways, making us think again about everyday items."

The black silhouette of the Mona Lisa appears in every piece of her work, taking on a new meaning in each one. On four large canvases, Pennington superimposes Mona Lisa over four recognizable figures, such as a doctor and an accordion player.

Some images contain remnants of Pennington's summer as a resident artist in Italy, and other artifacts from her past. The hints of collage add depth and mystery to the already eerie black-and-white, red-accented forms.

Pennington's work includes a sound sculpture and moving images on turntables, still keeping within the theme of the mysterious Mona Lisa silhouette. Her work sparks reflection on the purpose, function and interpretability of art with encrypted questions atop turntables such as "Can art be relevant?"

Coan had been on the CSMA faculty for two years prior to her recent move to Chicago. She taught young students at Bubb and Castro, and draws upon her work with children for a youthful vigor in her art.

"I think about how immediate children's marks are and how energetic they are in spirit," Coan said. "They distill things down to very basic forms, so I think about that when I'm working."

Her series of ceramic "Ladies" represents Coan's meditation on dresses as containers, as well as a reflection on growing older.

"To be taken seriously in society, I have found it necessary to change my outward appearance as I age," Coan said. "You clothe yourself to say something about who you are, and also to hide who you are to an extent."

Each ceramic lady has a different personality, body type and dress, from a prim, constricting gown to a stout, forgiving peasant's dress to a youthful pastel pinafore. Since each lady lacks a face, onlookers of all ages can imagine who would wear each dress -- and ask the question, "Which one am I?"

Zhang has taught at CSMA for three years. Originally from Shanghai, Zhang received his fine arts degree at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and melds Eastern and Western techniques and philosophies into his work.

Zhang's series of black-and-white stone lithographs, entitled "Spatial Flow," may remind viewers of Rorschach tests. But Zhang's lithographs contain surprising textures, depths, strokes and patterns that mesmerize the eye. Those desperate to find familiar shapes and forms in Zhang's chaotic yet controlled works will be out of their element.

A NASA photograph taken in the late 1990s inspired "Spatial Flow." The awe-struck Zhang soon drew a visual and spiritual connection between the universe and the microscopic. This connection is what he hoped to portray.

"Things are going to live and die. All things go this way. It looks like chaos but this kind of chaos is actually order," he said.

Each body of work in this sometimes startling, sometimes cheerful, and altogether engaging fall exhibit at CSMA asks questions about everyday shapes in unfamiliar ways. Do not expect a quick walk-through; you'll no doubt want to stay a while.

What: Lori Coan, Bryn Pennington and Hua Zhang: Ceramics, Installation, Drawings & Prints
Where: Community School of Music and Arts, 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View
When: Oct. 4 through Nov. 28. Mohr Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Contact: Visit or call (650) 917-6800.

E-mail Molly Tanenbaum at [email protected]

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