Sunday, May 12, 2013

I Did It! I Bought Two Artworks During Open Studios!

When I agreed to write portraits of local artists for the Silicon Valley Open Studio website and this blog, I knew that it would be a growth process for me. My orientation was completely toward the enduring art of museums and I had never given much attention to the local scene. Nor was I a big collector of art. I've always had friends who were artists, and I have purchased a few pieces that I especially liked by artists I had known for a long time, but our home is dominated by prints of famous works by Picasso and Renoir and others. I knew that in order to be a responsible reporter on the local art scene I would have to open my heart and mind to art that hadn't been stamped with any museum's seal of approval, and I would have to consider the premise that locally produced art can enhance your environment.

When I interviewed each artist, I tried to see what was best about their work, what made it unique, but when it came time to make choices, then we entered the realm of my personal taste and my personal space. Looking around my house, I noticed that in my bathroom there is a small gimmicky metallic image of a mermaid that I had ceased looking at years ago: here was a likely space. In the bedroom there is a medium-size print of a work by Maxfield Parish that doesn't show up well in the light condition there; that was due for replacement.

Given those particular sizes, when I started my Open Studio visits I knew which artists were likely to have pieces in my price range. And considering the personality and style of the artists I met, I knew who I wanted to acknowledge and encourage.

The first week-end of Silicon Valley Open Studios, my husband and I went up to the Peninsula Museum of Art and the Art Institute in Burlingame. This is a long drive from our home in Sunnyvale, but many artists at the Institute had their studios open—and the Museum was open as well—so it was worth it. I especially wanted to follow through with sculptor Ruth Waters, who founded the museum and institute. I wasn't planning to buy any of her work—large wood sculpture made for modern mansions and community spaces—I just longed to see it again and to run my fingers along its airy curves. This is work that could and should be in major museums. Ruth had re-arranged her showroom to feature a work called Community that had been on display somewhere else. This work alone made the trip worthwhile—it is beautiful and inspiring, and the level of technical innovation is awesome, literally. My photo didn't turn out so well, so I grabbed an image from Ruth's website; it doesn't show the fact that the large upper element is connected to the lower element only toward the center while the rest of it 'floats'.

Community by Ruth Waters
Photo from Ruth's website
After that, I visited the other artists I had interviewed for my piece on the museum and institute; I wanted to show my respect and to see how they had arranged their studios for the occasion. I took an interest in several artists whose work I hadn't seen before; I had a few good chats and even a joke or two. I was watching for work outside the usual path, with some unique obsession, and I found some. A few artists did work that just didn't appeal to me, so I skipped it. My husband took an interest in different artists. We were there a couple hours. It was an enriching experience. We started the afternoon with lunch at a nice café in the shopping mall just across El Camino Real, so it was a pleasant outing for us.

Yesterday, Saturday of the second week-end of Open Studios, was my day for serious shopping. The afternoon was warm and drowsy, and my husband dropped off watching the Giants game. I bolstered myself with an iced latte and headed for the studio of colored-pencil artist Denise Howard, less than ten minutes from my home.

Although Denise has been a professional artist for only a few years, she has developed incredible skill with colored pencils, a medium which is fairly new as a fine art practice. She had arranged her work in a pavilion on her patio, and I was happy to see it in natural light because the colors were more true and natural. I looked carefully at each work, peering into the details as though I had a magnifying glass. I was thinking about that space in the bedroom, which really needs a vertical about two feet tall. Nature is the theme of the room. Denise's subjects include beautiful close-ups of butterflies and flowers, and some mysterious still lifes, but they wouldn't fit in. The work that spoke to me for subject was a close-up of a tree. I'm a tree-worshipper anyway, and Denise showed true appreciation for an extraordinary example. The original is out of my price range, but Denise cleverly had quality prints of various sizes in a bin. For your reference, I got 11x14" print, matted, for about $70. The photo from her website shows the color better than my own.

Tree of Character by Denise Howard
Photo from Denise's website.
Then I came back to my own neighborhood to attend the Open Studio of my neighbor, Christine Oliver, who got me involved with Open Studios in the first place. Christine has a spacious studio and a lovely, shady yard which she shared for the occasion with two painters, a photographer, and a jewelry-maker. The scene was quite lively and I got into interesting conversations with the other artists.

When it was near closing time, I closely surveyed Christine's paintings, displayed on the walls of her studio. I've been following Christine's work a long time. She has treated many different subjects in several different mediums; in the past few years she's been doing small to medium watercolors and collages.  The first thing I noticed was her latest work, a large seascape in acrylic—larger, fresher, freer than any previous work, clearly a new stage. The California coast is such a familiar subject that it is hard to present in a fresh way, and I spent a long time considering why this view was different. This painting is too new to be documented.

Then I started looking for a small watercolor I had noticed when I interviewed Christine for her portrait. She had rearranged her work, so I had to scan the entire display to find it. When I picked it out, I said, "I'll take that one." Christine was so surprised that she got a little flustered. The color combination is a little edgy and fits in my bathroom just right; the natural subject has been abstracted in a spontaneous manner; the technique is a mysterious bag of tricks. It's a modest piece, but I think it represents what is special about Christine's talent. At $100 for an original work, it was a steal.

Pond with Cattails by Christine Oliver
Photo from Christine's website
Lucky me, Christine and her husband Paul invited myself and my husband to a hamburger feed that evening, with neighbors old and new, which brings us back to where we started. For me, Christine is the glamorous neighbor who hosts fabulous parties, but she is also an artist of merit and substance, and she boosts the art community by volunteering as Communications Director for Silicon Valley Open Studios. Christine got me involved in this project, helped me develop my approach, and encouraged me all the way through. For me it was a growth process, both as an art lover and as a writer.

This completes this phase of this blog. At present my husband and I are planning a journey to see the art museums of Canada. Next year I may look at adding some posts about the local art scene, but who can tell about next year. Tomorrow I'll take my new art to the framer! Hurrah for local art!

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