"Face Yourself" at the Elliott Fouts Gallery is a show of self-portraits by artists who are not, for the most part, known for their figurative work. The result is a show that ranges from a straightforward, traditional self- portrait by Bryan Mark Taylor to a psychologically fraught painting by John Tarahteeff, who depicts himself as a sailor in a beached boat with a broken mast.
Both are finely done and offer insights into the characters of the artists. Taylor's tender color and tactile paint handling give us a glimpse into the soul of an artist who is a sensitive colorist. Tarahteeff's symbolic painting suggests that he is a melancholy and self-dramatizing storyteller.
Between these two extremes are some marvelous and surprising works. Jennifer Balkan gives us a piquant and painterly self-portrait as an angel with a crown of roses. This image, which is reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell (whose works are up at the Crocker), jumps off the wall with joie de vivre.
Ryoko Tajiri abstracts her image with angular planes that in some senses efface her visage, but nevertheless offer a subtle and intriguing painting. John Karl Claes gives us a moody gestural image in sombre yet rich tones and Kenny Mencher challenges us with a dashing self-portrait in a Lone Ranger mask.
Some of the artists present only portions of their faces or figures. Randy Brennan's "I'm Complicated" takes the form of a floral painting of vines and a vase that has sliding panels that open to reveal a mouth and an eye. James Crandall focuses on his hands intertwined and moving apart in a beautifully drawn image. Jelaine Faunce reduces herself to an Angelina Jolie-like pair of plump lips.
Others let images or objects stand in for themselves. Maren Conrad fancies herself a sexy mermaid who ought to hang in the Dive Bar. Terry Pappas depicts herself as a Buddhist goddess with a bird. Teresa N. Fischer also holds a bird, a wind-up toy, to her ear, listening intently to its silent song.
The most compelling work in the show is Gale Hart's image of a girl with an ax confronting a panel with a relief line drawing of the same figure. Both girls have one foot that belongs to a pony rather than a human, and the overall feeling is one of menace and anger. Hart, whose works often address animal rights, offers an emotive and ambiguous statement of human culpability here.
All in all it's an enjoyable and thought-provoking exhibit, as is "The Collector: John Turner and the Art of Acquisition" across the street from Fouts at the Center for Contemporary Art, Sacramento. This delightful exhibition showcases objects from one man's collection of ethnographic, folk and outsider art.
Turner, an inveterate traveler who moved with his family to Vietnam and Taiwan when he was a teenager, began his career as a film editor in New York City before moving to the Bay Area in the 1970s, where he worked as a television news editor, arts producer, writer and curator. Over the past 35 years, he has visited more than 70 countries, finding odd objects such as a coconut carved into an image of Fidel Castro.
A haunter of thrift stores, he has acquired a marvelous selection of paintings, including a visionary image of Moses with the burning bush, an image of Elvis combing his hair in a mirror and a dark painting of two sullen young girls who seem to float on air. A medical sign from Mali depicts a dictionary of ailments from bad eyesight to flatulence.
A high point of the exhibit are several works by the renowned outsider artist the Rev. Howard Finster, including a childlike rendition of Turner emerging from the Amazon River and a wonderful, etched sheet metal wall sculpture titled "Queen Heneretta Wife of Charles I." These are mind-boggling, strange and enchanting works.
Note: If you are a fan of traditional watercolor painting, you should check out the American Watercolor Society's traveling exhibition from New York. It's up at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center, 5330 Gibbons Drive, Carmichael, through Jan. 26. For information, call (916) 971-3723.
Where: Elliott Fouts Gallery, 1831 P St., Sacramento
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday through Jan. 31
Information: (916) 736-1429; www.efgallery.com
Where: Center for Contemporary Art, Sacramento, 1519 19th St., Sacramento
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Feb. 3
Information (916) 498-9811; www.ccasac.org