The Unbeaten Track at Bedford Gallery 

A large group show offers scenic detours from reality.

Nearly ninety works comprise Land of Magic: Artists Explore Make-Believe. Curator Carrie Lederer: "Themes of escape, desire, and reverie are portrayed with personal and eccentric charm .... [They] create alternate universes ... of seemingly spontaneous poetic creations [and] ... narratives located in some twilight zone between dream and reality."

Among the artists working poetically and allusively is Timothy Berry, who paints enchanted forests of flowers, foliage, branches, roots, and seedpods afloat in a bluish haze: terraria pulsing with secret life. Dean Byington creates mixed-media paintings composed of layers of photo-silk-screened drawings; the pictorial density and close values in the colored paintings read abstractly (although the monochromatic, legible "Third Door" connotes archetypal narratives). Cathy Richardson paints wildlife collages or vignettes, their strong abstract forms holding together the somberly hued compositions. Rosemary Scanlon uses overlapping imagery as well for her hovering, dreamlike symbols. Weston Teruya makes sculptures and collages in painted paper that waver between architectural abstraction and the implied narratives of his humorously perverse titles. Barry Underwood builds installations with lights in natural settings and photographs them, creating enigmatic, alluring landscapes.

Other artists employ narrative, however fanciful or bizarre. Lauren Cohen's desolate, nocturnal "pseudo-worlds" depict mysterious situations: A man in equestrian garb seems to be falling from the sky and pushing his shoulder into a slab of Astroturf butted against an artificial boulder. A similar figure, suspended by cables, seems to be breaking into a pastry case. Julie Heffernan's large double self-portrait depicts the nude, but necklace-bedecked couple clasping hands and regarding us from a chapel-like bower; it's a compelling image, even if self-marriage can't happen here, never ever. David Huffman's stories may have more familiar locales, i.e., the "post-racial" mixed-race suburbs of the present, but his stories are similarly ambiguous: athletes playing zero-gravity basketball in outer space, and bunny-suited HazMat teams dancing around a tree trunk, or sleeping above in treetop hammocks. Kerri Lee Johnson creates paintings and sculptures depicting, respectively, the chronicles of hybrid human/animal characters and the landscapes that they inhabit. Hiraki Sawa depicts kitchens, bathrooms, and hallways invaded by tiny commercial aircraft in his deadpan surrealist video, "Dwelling." Jenny Schmid's prints depicting Dzenska Republika, her own private Czech Republic, combine history, humor, and myth. Esther Pearl Watson paints scenes from her Texas childhood as the daughter of an eccentric father obsessed with flying saucers — folly in light of May 21's supposed Rapture. Land of Magic runs through June 12 at Bedford Gallery (1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek). 925-295-1417 or BedfordGallery.org

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