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New visions from fused cultures

The 10 Asian-American artists now featured at the Arts Center use their art to reflect how they have coped with this dual ethnic heritage. The works show eastern and western symbols and ideologies, often uniting ideas that initially seem to oppose each other.

Athena, created by Kuy Yamamoto, is a bust of the Greek goddess of wisdom. Her eyes focus away from the viewer, looking at an unfathomable point in the distance. The smooth brows are drawn down, as if slightly troubled, and contrast with the loosely bundled hair that flows across one shoulder.

The artist, born and raised in Japan, studied Western art styles in high school and college. When he moved to the United States 16 years ago, he was surprised by the reaction to his work.

"People told me they expected to see Japanese sculpture. I asked them what that was, and they didn't know. To me, my art is Japanese. I always feel that my blood is Japanese, my culture is Japanese. When I create art, it reflects me, a part of Japan," Yamamoto explains.

Eastern symbols run through the oil paintings of Phung Huynh. The artist delights in investigating cultural differences, particularly the ways cultures define beauty. Mei-Li shows a young, upper-class Asian woman wearing a traditional dress, shoes peeking out beneath the hemline. The artist provides a light sketch, similar to an X-ray, over one leg that reveals the product of a bygone era: her bound feet. The woman smiles brightly at the audience, unaware that she is exposed, and motions to a second sketch of a similarly distorted foot hovering before her.

The works of Huong, a refugee of the Vietnam War, transcend culture. Her 12-paneled War Mural expresses the horrors of war. Women's and children's painted faces peer out from the canvas, frozen in masks of terror. Skulls shed tears as doves attempt to fly against the red rain pouring across the work.

The Art Center's Everett and Stanley Galleries host "Necessary Objects: National Functional Pottery Exhibition." Tony Wright's Round Black Teapot is a fanciful piece that almost appears to be pulled from an animated cartoon. Despite its large size and exaggerated curves, it has a remarkably small spout opening.

Tiskettasket Platter, by Jane Woodside, holds a flower at its center, surrounded by tilting pyramids. A second series of triangles points in the opposite direction, and is countered again by a third, creating a sense of untamed energy.

Other worthwhile browsing . . .

While you're in the Central Avenue area, check out these galleries too:

In conjunction with its 50th year celebration, Florida Craftsmen Gallery presents, through April 20, "Gimme Shelter," a show featuring the works of 50 local and national artists. A blank wooden house frame was given to each of the participants, who donated time and materials to complete each work. The result: a neighborhood of decorative homes.

Laura Militzer Bryant's At Home in the Universe augments indigo velvet with beadwork to resemble a constellation-filled sky. Her home is bordered with a red-violet shag material, creating a cozy feeling.

Diane Banks' Home Is Where the Heart Is combines fine presentation with infinite patience. The artist uses colored toothpicks, beads, dye and sea urchin strips to create a smaller version of the house inside her frame. She adds a heart above the door.

Houses are for sale to the public through a silent auction. Prices start at $100 and increase in $50 increments. Bidding closes April 20th. All money raised is being donated to the Florida Craftsmen's campaign fund to purchase the Renaissance Building, which currently houses the gallery.

The Florida Craftsmen Gallery, 501 Central Ave. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call (727) 821-7391.

531 Central Fine Arts Gallery presents artworks by Jerry Garcia, the late Grateful Dead singer, and Baron Wolman, the photographer whose many subjects include Garcia, in a show that opens Saturday and continues through April 24.

As a child, Garcia dabbled with art and often created ink sketches or watercolor paintings while on tour with his band. In his later years, the singer enjoyed making digital art.

Garcia's pieces have an ethereal quality. Curves and Lines, for instance, plays with form and color, overlapping and merging shapes to create new patterns that alter the natural flow of the work.

All of the works are endorsed by Garcia's estate. Prints and lithographs of his pieces, as well as limited edition Jerry Garcia ties, are available for purchase.

Baron Wolman's career started with the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Wolman photographed the emerging stars of the 1960s and '70s, including Jimi Hendrix, who stands, head back and eyes clenched shut as he howls his song to the world. Frank Zappa sits astride a bulldozer, the mechanical monstrosity becoming his surreal steed. Garcia gets special treatment as his image is replicated into six smiling portraits of varying color.

Wolman will attend for the show's opening reception, Saturday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. He will discuss his experiences and autograph posters, also available for purchase at the show.

531 Central Fine Arts, 531 Central Ave. Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Call (727) 822-2787.