Berkeley Open Studios tour offers inside look at creative process
By Lou Fancher
Call it kiln-to-countertop or easel-to-eye-candy for your wall, the 26th annual Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios tour is an arts locavore’s dream.
The same curiosity and wonder that propels people to farmers markets to discover farm-to-fork insights behind the burst of flavor in an apricot or the crunch in a carrot drives people to visit the over 100 professional artists and craftspeople who participate in the annual event.
The self-guided tour takes place Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3-4, 10-11, 17-18. A selection of studios and galleries offer additional access Dec. 19–24 and on First Saturdays year-round.
Beyond meeting artists in the places where they create one-of-a-kind paintings, photographs, mosaics, custom furniture, ceramics, lamps, garden art, textiles, sculpture and more, the event provides answers to questions.
What caused highlights on rippling water in photographer Kiran Singh’s “Boat Reflection” to turn blood red?
Does ceramist Rae Dunn give names to the bowls, cups, plates, vases and sculptures that exude surprising personality and whimsical, hand-wrought expressivity?
Are the Arabic letters that swell into lyrical fantasy and suggest swirling clouds, the roots of slender tree saplings or joyous, dancing human forms the product of artist Salma Arastu’s dreams?
.Where did Jim Rosenau discover the found objects and vintage leather ledger book used to construct “Table of the Implements,” a sturdy tribute to repurposed materials?
On the flip side, the tour offers artists an opportunity to learn about their visitors: Dunn says she wonders why customers tend to overlook her personal favorite items and gravitate to her “not-so-favorite” work.
Singh, participating for the first time, is hoping to learn what elements in his photographs move people’s hearts.
Rosenau, who operates as “This and That,” says, “It’s an education for me every time. Watching people look at my art and listening to how they understand what they see — and their apparent misconceptions — has taught me what is and is not working.”
Subtlety, he adds, doesn’t sell. “As a result, my work has gotten funnier, more colorful and more editorially articulate.”
Arastu finds that networking while not seeking the immediate gratification of sales leads to deeper understanding. An unfinished painting might cause a visitor to ask about process; verbalizing the techniques she uses allows Arastu to reaffirm the philosophies and inspirations behind her art.
Differentiating style as well as substance characterizes the artists’ approach to welcoming visitors into their workplaces. Dunn says she’s too busy to give instruction during the tour, but “if anyone wants to make something out of a lump of clay, they’re welcome to.”
She often has cookies and special items brought back from her frequent travels abroad. Her dog, Wilma, occasionally makes an appearance.
Singh says his welcome will be “graceful” and while editing photographs on his computer, he’ll be pleased to tell the stories behind his images.
Rosenau acknowledges the impracticality of displaying all of the materials he uses to make his thematic art furniture — the 5,000 vintage hard-bound books and voluminous supplies of recycled wood, rusty metal parts, brooms, discarded clock hands and more. Even so, his website can show his wide range, and a representative sample of current inventory illustrates his approach.
Arastu intends to be at work, and wait for people to indicate they’d enjoy hearing a painting’s back story. “I will work on a couple of canvases (applying) my calligraphic strokes and acrylic transparent glazes. Or maybe work on my small board paintings, adding details in pen and ink.”
Because many people today explore art and artists online — and artists rarely meet customers because sales occur primarily through their individual websites, online platforms or galleries — interaction is the highest purpose of open studios. That means, don’t be shy.
There are no stupid questions, the artists insist.
Especially in today’s DIY environment, they say customers are increasingly sophisticated, knowledgeable, and often practiced in the techniques they use to make their art. And who knows?
An essential question might thrust an artist back to their origins, remind them of forgotten impulses, or jolt them into wellspring awareness of ground they have covered and future directions they might pursue.