San Ramon gallery “Celebrating the Natural World”
By Lou Fancher
It’s marvelous when a contrasting viewpoint — the dynamic that in politics results in discordant polarization — produces gorgeous, life-affirming art. And what greater evidence is there that differing routes to harmony are organic and necessary than in the perfect imbalance of the natural world?
These two factors — artists with unique outlooks and nature’s light/shadow, ocean/shore, chaos/order, ephemeral/eternal and other yin-yang characteristics — converge in “Celebrating the Natural World,” a juried exhibit at Lindsay Dirkx Brown Gallery in San Ramon. The roughly 50 works on display arrive courtesy of the Lamorinda Arts Alliance and include paintings, photographs and ceramics. The show runs from Dec. 2 through Dec. 23. A Dec. 10 reception from 2 to 4 p.m. offers an opportunity for visitors to meet the artists.
“We looked for strong elements of composition and color,” says lead juror Maria SantoStefano, about the selection criteria. The Orinda-based plein-air painter worked with exhibit coordinator Pamela McCauley to jury the entries. “Picking a piece that showed balance and excellence in each artist’s work meant narrowing down their three to four submissions to the best representative example. We also aimed for showing (up-and-coming) artists whose work had never been exhibited and artists with years and years of experience.”
SantoStefano dabbled in art during her childhood but left the hobby largely untouched until 2004, when a class at a community center taught by Ann Marie Glover reignited her interest in painting. “I took the class hoping to get a painting I’d be proud enough of to put on my wall,” she recalls. The experience and subsequent classes led her to make it a near-daily habit. No longer interested in painting from photos and enamored of the freshness afforded by painting under always changing circumstances outdoors, SantoStefano appreciates the camaraderie she discovered. “I usually go with a group, so it’s a social thing. You can go out alone, but it’s not much fun.”
The same theory applies to being a member of the alliance, a collective of Bay Area artists who share tips and techniques and draw resilience from commiserating when art is overlooked — or celebrate when the value of art is upheld.
“My life is a life of learning,” says LAA member Jane Yuen Corich. “The alliance gives me an opportunity to know other artists and their work.”
Corich has worked for years in the fashion industry, providing costumes for local arts organizations from her home in Walnut Creek. Her work includes stylized realism and abstract oil paintings, quilts, runners and textile wall hangings. Vibrant color and dense texture could be considered her signature.
“I try to discover new textures that push the edge of quirky. I’ve been using straw, different things that are three-dimensional and build up surfaces. Finding new combinations excites me.”
But her work also displays a deep understanding of clear edges and borders. “Redwood Walk,” the work in the exhibit that shows a bold, brown stream cutting through snow-covered ground and disappearing into a grove of pine trees, at first seems to counter her other works’ density. Closer examination reveals that although the composition is simple, the strong color contrast and edges so bold they appear to be carved instead of painted are reflective of Corich’s artistic style.
San Francisco photographer Wenda Pyman’s “Bowling Ball Beach” resulted from her dedication to visiting popular locations to find never-before-seen views. Small-scale boulders cluster like sea lions on copper-toned sand while dense fog shrouds cliffs in the photo’s background.
“With everyone shooting the same scene, you have to try to get something different,” she says.
Recently, she’s concentrated on coastal scenes; finding stimulus in the contrast between water and land and in the way in which each town along the West Coast differs. “From one to the next, it’s never the same. Morro Bay is my current favorite.” As for time of day, there’s no question. “Without good light, it’s just a snapshot,” she says. “I get up before dawn, which is my preferred time.”
Light is also a leading lady in the ceramic work of Walnut Creek-based artist Lucia Tsang. Featured in the exhibit is “Light,” a 5-inch functional lamp made with clay. The warm red, orb-shaped piece is gently weathered and poked with holes out of which soft light is cast. “If a piece has a hole, I like it,” Tsang says. “The negative space where the light shows through gives a warm feeling. When you come home at night, it’s comforting.”
Because she prefers not to deal with shipping, Tsang says that most of her sales are through word-of-mouth, annual local fairs or gallery shows. In fact, these artists and others in the show who work so diligently to preserve and develop their individual artistic expression are the best examples of shared, in-common characteristics.
They speak with enthusiasm of artists whose style differs from their own; they strive to sell their art but don’t allow commerce to dominate their creativity. They are polar opposites whose greatest strength comes through the Earth’s beauty, to which they are collectively devoted.