Little Shop of Wonders

Housed in a nondescript storefront among the Fountains Shoppes of Distinction in Plantation, the Bock Gallery is the sort of unassuming little place you might easily pass. Don't. Inside the narrow, cluttered space is a quirky array of art, ranging from the works of artist and owner William Bock to framed antique tapestries and prints to the latest in high-tech digital imagery.

Bock and his wife, Christy, recently moved their gallery from trendy (but apparently unprofitable) Harrison Street in downtown Hollywood to this suburban shopping center. They're still in the process of sorting through a large inventory of art, that of both Bock and other artists, which will rotate through the gallery on a continuing basis.

The Chicago-born Bock -- who ended up in South Florida by way of Princeton, New Jersey, where his family operates the Williams Gallery of Fine Art -- works in a variety of media and styles, representative samples of which are on display in the Plantation gallery. On view are landscapes in oil and acrylic, as well as the occasional commissioned item (a large reproduction of a Botero, for example). I spied a couple of pieces of Bock-designed jewelry as well, along with a ceramic plate featuring his distinctive signature in block letters in the lower-right corner.

For every one of his paintings on display, there are probably a handful more like it in storage, for Bock often executes a series based on one idea before moving on to other subject matter. Several samples from one series -- small, surreal landscapes with oversize seashells hovering overhead, Magritte-style -- are grouped in one corner. Samples of Bock's earlier work, including some impressive abstracts, are found in large plastic sleeves in a rack. Flipping through them, you get a quick survey of the progression of styles he's attempted over the years.

The Bocks do custom framing, too. The day I visited, the artist collaborated on a little prank with a patron. As a woman admiringly inspected a realistic bird print, Bock strolled over and casually informed her that the piece had already been sold -- dramatic pause -- to her husband, who stood nearby with a "Gotcha!" look on his face. Bock then helped the happy couple select a frame for their new acquisition. Having worked with interior designers who sometimes bully clients into thinking they know nothing about art, Bock says he likes to go out of his way to assure customers that they're capable of making informed decisions about what they want hanging on their walls.

Bock paints murals and adds faux finishes as well. In the cramped studio-workshop at the back of the gallery, he gave me a glimpse of a typical day's work. On one work surface was a pair of lamps to which he was applying a faux finish and a piece of molding he was marbleizing. He was also in the middle of refinishing an antique column and restoring a 19th-century painting. Original works in progress included two paintings: one for himself, another commissioned by a client.

Although the gallery doesn't supply enough room for an "exhibition" in the conventional sense, Bock has set aside a small space to display related works by other artists, which he says he'll rotate every two months or so. The current grouping is called "Traditional Through Digital," a reference to cutting-edge artists who use computers to manipulate their renderings of familiar subjects.

New York-based artist David Scott Leibowitz takes his original photographs and scans them into a computer, with which he alters them using such software as Painter and Photoshop. After generating negatives from the digital files, he then creates color prints in limited editions of 10 to 25.

Common among the images is the dreamy haziness of a mirage. In A Day at the Beach, for instance, the simple composition -- a swimmer standing beside a lifeguard station -- fairly emanates heat and light. And in Rick & Jesse, a street scene featuring two eerie posters plastered to the side of a building, and an untitled piece in which half a dozen figures huddle in a vaguely defined landscape, Leibowitz's manipulations soften the focus of the pictures, giving them a distinct painterly quality.

Leibowitz achieves an altogether different effect with the dazzling N.Y.C. Mosaic, a Times Square cityscape that, at close range, appears to be an abstract composition made up of countless tiny patches of color. Step back a bit, however, and the taxicabs, buildings, billboards, and other elements of urban life emerge. Leibowitz has broken the city scene into a vibrant mosaic of digital tiles that reassembles itself before the viewer's eyes.

A few striking limited-edition prints by Margaret Kennard Johnson combine digital imaging with more traditional processes, such as intaglio and relief printing, which leave raised surfaces on the paper. For the highly textured Dream, she places a big wedge of watermelon on a pedestal that stands on a small, doily-covered table. The elegance of the composition contrasts so absurdly with the elements of the picture (including an electrical outlet on one wall) that the only appropriate response is a chuckle. Johnson also applies her techniques to abstraction; Of Music and the Night -- Scherzo Presto and Of Music and the Night -- Allegretto are full of squiggles and wavy lines that serve as visual correlatives for the artist's unheard music.

Japanese artist Susumu Endo uses digital technology to achieve dramatically different results. His offset lithographs, in editions of 75 to 100, are serene landscapes offering Zenlike simplicity and harmony. He appears to start with images of forest foliage, which he then overlays with geometric shapes and washes of soft color.

The radiant Nature 8, for example, from Endo's early-'90s "Space & Space" series, features dense, barely differentiated foliage in shades of yellow and green, set off by a dark-edged rectangle that's superimposed onto the main square. Nature 95d, from the same series, layers two squares and a triangle among its rich green leaves, throwing the shapes into sharp relief with bright patches of light along the edges. In his more recent "Horizon" series, Endo imposes an artificial horizon onto the images; in the starkly beautiful Horizons 3, for example, a single tree with a tangle of bare branches stands in the middle of a rocky field.

There's a seeming sameness to Endo's work that some might find off-putting -- leaves and more leaves, shapes and more shapes, in print after print, with only slight variations in color, size, and composition. But I like to think of these pieces as visual equivalents of experimental composer Brian Eno's ambient music. These are pieces that invite detached contemplation as surely as a Zen koan -- ambient landscapes that create and sustain an atmosphere of calm and clarity.

The Bock Gallery is located in the Fountains Shoppes of Distinction, 801 S. University Dr., #C-109, Plantation. For information call 954-915-8887.

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