An endless source of inspiration: Bedford Gallery hosts 87 visions, versions of 'Sky'
By Lou Fancher Contra Costa Times
What is empty and full, wet but often feels dry, life-giving and lethal, protective and fierce, colored blue or black or gray or orange or white, or any combination thereof ... and is not owned by anyone but belongs to every person on the planet?
"Sky: A National Juried Exhibition" has transformed the Bedford Gallery into a place of dreams and daring expression on display through May 25.
Eighty-seven artists selected by jurors DeWitt Cheng, a San Francisco-based writer and critic, and Elizabeth Ferrer, director of contemporary art at BRIC in Brooklyn, provide 87 different answers to the question: What is sky?
Even before Vincent van Gogh swirled the starry night into a richly textured stew and Ansel Adams captured thunderous storm clouds descending upon Yosemite Valley, the vast, mercurial nature of Earth's upper atmosphere has transfixed humans.
Myths, poetry, literature, symphonies, ballets, hurricanes, meteorites, space pioneers and colossal wars have all played out various scenarios of fury and finery -- inspired by the possibility of open air.
Locally, 20th century California plein air painters like William Keith and Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel demonstrated their affinity for the state's grand, coastal and rural settings where cerulean skies contrast rugged rock.
The contemporary artists included in the gallery's exhibit are no less commanding. From sprawling aerial oceans of expected blue to densely etched and blackened domes to lollypop-colored polka dots immersed in bubbles, "the sky's the limit" climbs from cliché to concise description of the works' range.
Happily, "Sky" includes a substantial number of artists who live and work in the East Bay, offering a welcome opportunity to view local talent that won't disappear when the show closes.
Bea Guttman of Walnut Creek works in layers that suggest both fire and ice in her painting "Dusk." Gutman said the piece was inspired by a trip to the Oregon coast.
El Cerrito artist Ellen Yamada Tzvetin's monotype prints resonate with mystery and mist. Spectacular black shards thrust into textured gray fields and there's a tumbling, which-end-is-up affect to the perspectives. "Inviting or threatening, soundless or thundering, the sky is an endless source of inspiration," she wrote in an email.
Kat Mulkey of Lafayette referred in an interview to the Earth as "this rock we stand on." Her "Black Holes Are Real" photograph proves the firmness of aerial images. Photography, she said, is "instinctively a trusted and factual medium."
Acknowledging the age of Photoshop might mean viewers are skeptical about the medium's authenticity, she asserted there are as many visions of sky as there are viewers and creators. Looking at the work of her peers, she said, "I felt the community of 'Sky.' I can't wait to see what the other folks come up with."
Elizabeth Williams, a Berkeley-based photographer, correlated the serendipity of her photographic discoveries with the sky's rich, ever-fluctuating and dynamic canvas. "Purposefully enigmatic, my images are intended to elicit and prolong a state of not knowing," she said.
Some images are ambiguous: the collision of clouds and blue tones as a building mural of painted sky merges with actual sky in "Oakland, 2011." What is real?
A large thundercloud propelled Peter McNeil of Walnut Creek well beyond the fluid paints he used to capture the moment. A slim footbed of golden grass gives rise to a towering, purple-gray cloud in the painting at the Bedford. McNeil's imagination is no less mountainous. Suggesting the sky is benevolent, creature-filled, an indicator of time and season, and more, he said the theme -- and art's capacity for exploration -- is endless.
Although most of the artists contributing to "Sky" chose to depict the sky, Hopi Breton's suspended land mass sculptures convey an aspect of sky's essence. Working with "floating city" and "island in the sky" concepts, "Float" brings to mind a family of surreal, organic space capsules. Breton said they represent a sense of loss and drifting, but their juxtaposition as airborne land masses with deep, descending "roots," both defies and embraces gravity.