LET’S REVIEW! Photos of Africa, stylish glass work captivate at La Jolla Art Association show

The new show at the La Jolla Art Association (LJAA) gallery combines the painting-like photography of Lisa Ross’ “Imaging The World: Africa North/South” with the Dale Chihuly-influenced glass work of Dick Ditore — and is an absolute gem.

It’s probably the finest exhibition at the gallery in a long time. Ross’ artistic photographs from her travels in Africa blend well with the swirling colors and interesting shapes of Ditore’s glass. You can see it through July 16 at 8100 Paseo Del Ocaso in La Jolla Shores.

Modifications made to the gallery space for the show, which improved lighting and helped create a truly beautiful white space, also contributed to the overall improved look of the gallery.

Although Ross has had an amazingly diverse career, she said her involvement with photography runs deep, tracing itself to the most renowned American photographer of all time — Ansel Adams.

Ross was a student of Adams at Hamilton High School in west Los Angeles, which had a prestigious photography program. Adams, who lived near the school, encouraged the students and judged their competitions. “We students would go over to Adams’ house,” said Ross. “Once he took me aside and said to me, ‘You need to be a photographer!’ ”

But Ross went on to do other things first. She started out in film school at USC, but because the field was so male-dominated at the time, she switched to study counseling psychology, where she ended up ABD (All But Dissertation). She taught courses like Psychopathology, as a grad student at USC, and then as a professor at National University.

After her teaching stint, Ross worked as a freelance political consultant and journalist in San Diego. She found her way back to photography in 2001, when the first digital cameras came out. Ross said she also bought a very expensive Epson 9600 printer that printed photographs on canvas, making them look like paintings.

Her work at the LJAA Gallery is from her Africana collection. “I love Morocco in north Africa,” Ross explained, “and in the south, Botswana is great for its wildlife, and Namibia has wonderful deserts. Cape Town is lovely and a lot like La Jolla, but the surrounding poverty, left over from apartheid, is very detracting.”

In Africa, her primary means of travel was bush plane. She said she planned out some of her shots, but other photos were just spontaneous. “With the digital camera, you just shoot tons of images and then take it to the computer where the interesting stuff kind of emerges on its own,” she noted, adding her favorite thing is to shoot landscapes and abstract images, sometimes wildlife, but rarely portraits, which she considers too difficult. Ross has photographs from some 100 countries, which she ells online and at her gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ross said she brought glass artist Ditore into the show, after meeting him at a wildlife benefit at her home. Ditore was an electrician by trade for much of his adult life, but has worked with glass for the past 17 years. He said he took his first classes in glass art at Alpine Glass in Mission Valley. After that, he switched over to the Arts & Crafts Center at UC San Diego, which was headed by Ron Carlson.

A few years ago, much to everyone’s dismay, UCSD cited financial difficulties and the Craft Center was torn down. Ditore called the destruction “a travesty” that denied students and the public a great opportunity to take art and craft classes.

Ditore said he developed a great passion for glass and felt that he needed more instruction, so he began to go up to Washington State to study at Dale Chihuly’s Pilchuck Glass School. He went there every summer for 13 years before getting hired as an instructor, five years ago to teach engraving, carving and glass polishing.

Pilchuck is a 50-acre campus in the middle of a 15,000-acre tree farm. “The summer session lasts 6-8 weeks and everyone there is interested in glass art, so it’s an exhilarating and stimulating experience,” Ditore said. Chihuly, probably the most famous glass artist in the world, comes by once or twice a summer.

“Sadly, there is really only one glass art program left in San Diego and that is at Palomar College in San Marcos,” Ditore said. He sells most of his work through the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, and at a private gallery in Ashville, North Carolina. He also does private commissions.

“My most recent commission was a glass Viking ship modeled after the one archaeologists unearthed in the mud of a Swedish harbor,” he explained. “I also did a glass scroll with Hebrew characters for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Museum of Natural History in Balboa Park.

“I don’t like making production-line stuff where you make the same thing over and over just to sell it. I like new challenges. And I am not a social commentator. My work is purely aesthetic. I want to bring a little beauty and joy into people’s lives. Personally, what I like best about glass is its smooth touch. That is why I always encourage people to touch my work.”

IF YOU GO: The LJAA Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; closed Monday. Free. (858) 459-1196. Next show: July 16-30, “Just Beachy” with seascapes galore. lajollaartassociation.org

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