Geneva Anderson digs into art

Photographer Evvy Eisen’s “Oyster Farm” puts a human face on a front page controversy: Eisen in conversation with historian Dewey Livingston and Kevin and Nancy Lunny of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, Petaluma Arts Center, Sunday

"The Oysterman," is just one of Marin documentary photgrapher Evvy Eisen's 60 silver gelatin prints in "Oyster Farm" at the Petaluma Arts Center through May 15, 2011. Photo by Evvy Eisen.

Acclaimed Point Reyes photographer Evvy Eisen is presenting her latest photographic essay – “Oyster Farm” through May 15 at Petaluma Arts Center.  Eisen, who specializes in environmental portraits, has taken a series of 60 silver gelatin prints focusing the workers at the historic Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which is located on Drakes Estero in the Point Reyes National Seashore in western Marin County.  Eisen will be in conversation this Sunday, April 10, 2011, at 2-4 p.m., with Marin historian Dewey Livingston on the development of agriculture and mariculture in the Point Reyes area and with Kevin and Nancy Lunny, proprietors of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.  The Lunnys will also give a slide presentation entitled “Mariculture 101: How to Grow an Oyster.”  

Currently the center of an intense land use controversy, the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm has been thrust into national news and Eisen’s photographs, which are non-political, have thrown her indirectly into the controversy.  Speaking from her Point Reyes home in late March, Eisen said “Normally I do not take positions. I let my art speak for itself.  In this case, the publicity against the farm has been so biased, that I feel the need to help set the record straight.  I hope my photographs will inspire people to inform themselves about the situation and question what they are hearing.”  

Public confidence in the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm was undermined when claims were made that operation hurt seal populations and environment in the pristine waters of Point Reyes National Seashore.  An investigation by the Interior Department’s Solicitor’s Office has now been proven that National Park Service scientists made grevious errors while assessing the environmental impact of the disputed oyster farm, specifically that they mishandled photographic images showing the activities of, birds, and harbor seals at the upper Drakes Estero.  The photographs referred to are the some 250,000 digital surveliance images taken by hiden cameras installed by the National Park Services of the oyster company.   At issue is whether the 71-year-old oyster farm — the only such facility in the Point Reyes National Seashore — can extend its lease, which runs out next year. The farm, which produces 40 percent of the state’s commercial oysters, is located in a small bay nestled into the green coastal hills of the park, about 50 miles north of San Francisco.  The company has been embroiled in a dispute for years with park officials who want to convert the estuary to official wilderness.  Later this year the park service is expected to release its draft environmental impact statement, which will help determine if the farm can stay.  The Lunnys have mounted a very vocal opposition against the California Coastal Commission and environmentalists who have sought to run them out of business.

Eisen spent a year documenting the workers and the farm environment putting a human face on the issue.  She photographs in a classic portrait tradition – using a tripod mounted, medium format camera loaded with black and white film – and creates individual silver gelatin prints in the darkroom.  The exhibit is divided into three sections: portraits, photographs of the working farm and abstractions and still life compositions.  Eisen is also well-known for her Multiply by Six Million, a 15-year project photographing Holocaust survivors in California and France.  The catalyst for this immersive project was a 1992 assignment she got to photograph four Holocaust survivors in conjunction with her son David’s eighth-grade Holocaust project.   The exhibit is available online through the California Exhibition Resources Alliance with portraits from the collection and a clip from a short documentary film she created, which has been shown on the Sundance Channel.

Dewey Livingston is the curator of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History at Inverness.  He has been researching and writing about Point Reyes for more than twenty-five years.  He has written five books on West Marin history and assisted Eisen with her OYSTER FARM project.  Livingston’s books will be available for sale and he will be signed them at Sunday’s presentation at the Petaluma Arts Center.

Details:  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma, CA  94952. (707) 789-0537.  OYSTER FARM ends May 15, 2011.

April 9, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Family Tree” an exceptional fine woodworking show at the Petaluma Arts Center

Barbara Holmes' site specific installation from re-purposed buildling lath is the focal point of "Family Tree," the fine woodworking exhibition at the Petaluma Arts Center through March 13, 2011. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Handmade furniture is the emphasis of “Family Tree: Fine Woodworking in Northern California,” the Petaluma Art Center’s stunning new exhibition which opened last Saturday and runs through March 13, 2011.  The show traces the lineage of California’s pivotal wood artists from 1945 forward and includes masterpieces from pioneers Bob Stockdale, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Arthur Hanna, and J.B. Blunk to present graduates of the wood furniture design program at California College of the Arts.  In all, 25 artists whose work has influenced California’s contemporary fine woodworking movement are included in the show.  Curator and exhibition designer Kathleen Hanna is giving a gallery walk-though this Saturday, January 29, 2011 from noon to 1 pm at the Petaluma Art Center. Following her tour, Sebastopol woodworker Jerry Kermode will give a lathe turning demonstration and problem-solving symposium for all interested on the grounds of the art center from 1 to 4 p.m.

Details: The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, at E. Washington in central Petaluma, 94952.  Phone: (707) 762-5600

January 28, 2011 Posted by | Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two fantastic Christo portraits you will NOT see at the Smithsonian Running Fence exhibition–these are right here in Petaluma and by Morrie Camhi

Christo and his Running Fence. Morrie Camhi, 1976, silver gelatin print

While ARThound is delighted to be attending the festivities surrounding the “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence” exhibition opening this Friday  in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, there is something to be said for local talent.  The late Petaluma photographer Morrie Camhi took two of the best portraits of young Christo ever and they are not at the Smithsonian; they are currently on display in Petaluma at the Petaluma Art Center through April 25.   The show in Washington includes the camera-work of Gianfanco Gorgoni, Italian, who handled portraits and Wolfgang Volz, German, who did the landscape shots of the fence.  Were Camhi’s two portraits in the show, they would likely be referred to as the little jewels that best captured Christo the man in this gargantuan project. 

“Portrait as Metaphor” highlights the  work of Morrie Camhi and includes images from his series “Faces and Facets:  The Jews of

Christo and his Running Fence, Morrie Camhi, September 1976, silver gelatin print

Greece,” “Espejo: Reflections of the Mexican American,” and “The Prison Experience.”

What is immediately evident in these images is Camhi’s use of light and the definitive expressions he captured in all his subjects.  The Christo portraits are remarkable though–evoking the determination, defiance and grit that came to define Christo as well as his own sense of wonderment with the fence.   We can almost feel the cool ocean wind blowing as Christo stands in a field with suitcase in hand before the lyrical creation that took him years to realize.   The suitcase says it all–traveler, pied piper, magician, bureaucrat–work accomplished, Christo came and went leaving us to sort out hwat it all meant.  Camhi has pulled so much from the negative, producing a dark broody silouette like image masterfully printed in  silver gelatin.    

Thank you, Christo and Jeanne Claude for fighting for this project with your heart and soul and thank you Morrie for these  images which ignite our memories of  this artistic duo who showed us all how to dream big.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tall Tales, Healing Stitches, Carol Larson “TALLGIRL Series” Petaluma Arts Council, August 8, 2009

The Bullies, 2006, 59"x34", commercial fabrics, digitally printed words.

"The Bullies," 2006, 59"x34", commercial fabrics, digitally printed words.

Last weekend, I met artist Carol Larson whose “Tallgirl Series” of two dozen mixed media fiber collages was exhibited at the Petaluma Art Center in conjunction with the annual Petaluma Quilt Show.  The quilt show is an annual one day extravaganza sponsored by the Petaluma Museum Association involving quilt displays at several downtown Petaluma venues and it draws a huge crowd from all over the Bay Area.  The Art Council’s sponsorship of Carol Larson, along with its recent shows devoted to Indian textiles, indicate the center’s strong support for fiber artists.  A large audience turned up at the Art Center for Larson’s talk, which is no surprise—since the center’s opening last year, every event has been packed to capacity, indicating our community’s hunger for interaction with artists.  The Center’s decision to focus on Larson, a fiber artist, during the local quilt show, indicates it is doing its job…prodding us to take note of the possibilities inherent in textile art and to note the divide between fine art and craft.    

There is a strong conceptual basis for Larson’s pursuit of this art form, separating her work from popular hobby quilting which often produces an object of beauty that carries no clear message.  Larson’s “Tallgirl” collages, 2006 to 2008, are comprised of dozens to hundreds of stamped or pieced vibrantly colored strips of fabric–all referencing her gripping life story as an outsider—an exceptionally tall and unhappy girl who became a guinea pig for medical experimentation.  These collages are stitched messages of abuse, chronic pain, isolation, transcendence and self-acceptance.  

"Why I Dropped Out of College," 2008, 36x49," commerical fabrics, screen-printed fabrics, Angelina fibers.

"Why I Dropped Out of College," 2008, 36"x49," commerical fabrics, screen-printed fabrics, Angelina fibers.

Larson grew up in the Bay Area and by age 17, she was 78 inches tall or 6’6″.   The subject of constant ridicule, Larson was ostracized and deeply depressed.  She was surgically shortened six inches with experimental surgery with the intention of giving her a normal life.  Standing before a large group at the Petaluma Art Center, Larson explained that, at that time, fitting the norm was equated with having a normal life and normal was thought to lead to happy.  She was “cut to fit.”  The grueling procedure which cut her bones but not her muscles took away all hope of athleticism as she was left unable to balance properly and with chronic pain which she has endured all of her adult life.  Ironically, when she later questioned her parents abut the decision to have the surgery, they told her that she had made the decision to proceed with the surgery.  Larson had no recollection of making this decision because she had suppressed the experience. 

detail, "Why I dropped Out of College," 2008, 36"x 49", commerical fabrics, screen-printed fabrics, Angelina fibers.

detail, "Why I dropped Out of College," 2008, 36"x 49", commerical fabrics, screen-printed fabrics, Angelina fibers.

The topic became taboo in her family and led to estrangement with her parents and her siblings.  Her confusion over this and over her parent’s lack of accountability festered for years. 

When Larson was in her twenties, she became a case study– the focus of medical research for an orthopedic team at a teaching hospital.  She was routinely called in, stripped down and paraded around for humiliating clinical examinations. She finally put her foot down and refused to participate.  Until she was 35, she avoided discussing her surgery, despite the fact that she walked with an obvious limp that people frequently commented on.  By age 55, Larson understood that repressing her feelings was self-destructive and she went “into rebellion” and began use art as an outlet. 

"On A Sacle of 1 to 10," 2008, 43"x61", Commerical fabrcis, hand-dyed silk charmeuse, batiks.

"On A Sacle of 1 to 10," 2008, 43"x61", Commerical fabrics, hand-dyed silk charmeuse, batiks.

Made from commercially purchased fabrics and some hand-dyed silks to which she applies successive layers of dye, dye removal, over-dyeing and screen-printing of her own imagery, the “Tallgirl” collages combine elements of abstraction with intimate self-portraiture.  Within the series itself, there is evidence of tremendous growth in experimentation with form and materials.  Among the most powerful works in the series are her self-portraits– caricatures of herself in various states of compromise or transcendence.  Her body is large, solid and awkward, a mass to be reckoned with and her face, all facial features, are absent.  Despite this, the scenes convey a tremendous amount of emotion.  “Why I Dropped Out of College” (2008) depicts her as a college student in Northern Utah experiencing a catastrophic fall on ice.  She is flat on her back, alone, sliding on ice, textbooks askew, hands outstretched to grasp her books.  Constant throughout these portraits is Larson’s expressive treatment of her hands—always elegant with long fingers.  Through her hands, Larson found her voice, healing and identity.

"Anatomy of Rage," 2008, 29" x39", hand-dyed and commerical fabrics.

"Anatomy of Rage," 2008, 29" x39", hand-dyed and commerical fabrics.

 “On A Scale of 1 to 10” (2008) is a fabric work comprised of a horizontal scale of graduated flames–vibrating chromatically—that are pieced from commercial fabrics and hand-dyed silk and machine stitched to a gray border.  The work is as much as scale of the off-the chart pain Larson endured as an index of the psychic energy she expended. 

"So many Stories," 2007, 44"x45", Digitally printed words, gesso, screen-printed.

"So many Stories," 2007, 44"x45", Digitally printed words, gesso, screen-printed.

 “Anatomy of Rage” (2008) is a fabric landscape executed in fiery red hues that radiates hot energy.  What appears to be a large time bomb done in benign patchwork sits off to the left alluding to the explosive power of pent-up emotion.  

“So Many Stories” (2007) is a mishmash of Larson’s stories which she typed in tiny fonts that were digitally printed and then silk-screened and gessoed onto fabric.  

Overall, there is a fascinating proliferation in this series and its psychic scatter, maybe it’s too orderly–Larson’s got a lot more to say and she is on a roll–getting looser, freer and more expressive with her materials over time.  I am curious to see what she would do with the immediacy of paint and canvas.  With their saturated colors and hand-crafted applications, these highly personal textile collages evoke enough discomfort and vulnerability to give them a powerful edge.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Art, Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment