Liza Ryan’s vision is a peripheral one. That is, what she seeks to convey in her photographs is imagery seen glancingly, distractedly — not looked at, but seen in the process of doing or thinking about something else. This gives a tremendously resonant poignancy to these otherwise attractive but mysteriously incidental photos. By working this way, Ryan inverts the common notion of the camera as an extension of the eye. Now it becomes an extension of the mind — not necessarily Ryan’s mind, but the mind of an imaginary eyewitness whom Ryan has invented almost like a character in a novel. Greg Colson assumes a similar balance between objective and subjective viewpoint in his stylized diagrams of sports stadiums, rendering these plans neither as guide maps nor architectural elevations but as fanciful elaborations. They seem done almost from memory, produced in an almost mechanical manner, as if they were the notations of a sports fan so fanatical that he fixates on sports places as opposed to sports themselves.

Several generations earlier, avant-gardists who sought to break out of the naturalist tradition wanted to refashion in their own way how we see reality, and how we make art from that refashioning. In California, most modernist painters might have been a decade late and a distortion short compared to their more cosmopolitan compeers, but cumulatively they were at least making a case for looking at paradise through glasses tinted other than rose. They could thus celebrate the paradisiacal as well as the mundane aspects of life in the state without cranking out picture post cards. This collection of work by such painters as Louis Siegriest, Margaret Bruton, Erle Loran, Otis Oldfield, Helen Clark Oldfield, Edward Biberman, Peter Krasnow, Paul Landacre and, of course, Stanton Macdonald Wright serves as a small, endearing and even exciting survey of California landscape in the wake of fauvism, expressionism, cubism and surrealism. Liza Ryan and Greg Colson at Griffin, 2902 Nebraska Ave., Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (310) 586-6886. “The California Modernist Landscape” at Spencer Jon Helfen, 9200 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (310) 273-8838. Both thru July 28.

—Peter Frank

LA Weekly