Old Town Eureka shimmered with energy, as it typically does the first Saturday evening of each month. Hundreds of people swarming the streets, absorbing not only the art but the ambiance, the thrill of being out and about in a creative community. The north wind didn't chill enthusiasm in the slightest. Arts Alive! is as much about the "Alive" part as the "Arts." (Too bad most Arcatans can't bring themselves outside of that town's city limits -- unless they're tripping to Central or South America -- because if more people from the northern city experienced Eureka's arts event, perhaps Arcata's would rise above a pale facsimile.)
Saturday night, several people mentioned the volume of teenagers strolling, running, skipping or otherwise participating in Arts Alive! "You see these young couples out on dates," an observer noted. "It's great to see them having a sort of classy night out on the town. You think, 'Yeah, they're getting it!'"
"Getting it" meaning, in this case, that even the ones who aren't going around consciously studying the artwork are still experiencing art-related cultural events as a fun and normal part of community life; they're seeing creativity celebrated by a significant cross-section of Humboldt residents. For those of us who grew up in a cultural wasteland, the knowledge that our kids have at least one night a month to immerse themselves in art and music warms the heart.
Teens -- and Arcata -- were well represented at Ramone's, where Arcata High's jazz band played surrounded by Arcata Arts Institute students' life drawings, a result of a regular workshop with Joyce Jonté.
Jonté's own show, with Susan Needham and Suza Lambert at the Morris Graves Museum of Art, is a must-see. (It runs through Monday, March 16.) The female form has, of course, been recreated in art since time began, but this combination of work -- watercolors by Jonté, sculptures by Needham and oils by Lambert -- exhilarates, practically glows. The multi-dimensionality of the exhibit lifts the viewer, inspires admiration of and mediation on women, on the particular life current that connects us all -- what does one judge art by if not the awe it inspires and the thoughts it provokes?
Next month, a particularly thought-provoking show will arrive in Humboldt State University's First Street Gallery (an example of what Arcata could use to better anchor its arts event): Sandow Birk's "The Depravities of War." Birk, known for drawing on established art history traditions to create his own commentary on modern social issues, created a series of woodprints inspired by 17th century master printmaker Jacques Callot's war "reportage," only updated to illustrate the history of the Iraq War -- a war, First Street Gallery Director Jack Bentley pointed out, that has been going on for so many years that we've become, or are in danger of becoming, complacent about it. Younger college students remember the World Trade Center attack as something that happened half their life ago. Birk's show reminds us of the ongoing scenes unfolding across the world; his method of presentation reminds us that war is, sadly, a recurring theme in human history. "The Depravities of War" opens next Arts Alive! Saturday, April 4, and runs through May 17.
The sheer volume of art and people keeps Arts Alive! thrilling to attend, but also lends to its biggest problem: hitting as many venues as planned. However, most of the exhibits can be viewed throughout the month simply by wandering in the stores and looking around. What's worth the effort once the attraction of wine, cheese and socializing is removed from the picture? Try Jeff Cross' debut show at Suki Boutique (612 Second St.). From Humboldt, relocated to Austin, Cross' work runs from engaging abstracts to comical identifiable subjects. Not quite whimsical, but clearly Cross has a sense of humor. Definitely appealing -- and the paintings will be up through Suki's one-year anniversary in April.
In the "You missed it!" category, Eureka Books' "I Made It This Far" exhibit featured Gus Clark's art books. The show illustrates "some of the ways in which art and books can come together," explained bookstore owner (and longtime Journal columnist, successful author, gardener, etc.) Amy Stewart.
Clark, whose brilliantly colored paintings leap from the C Street Hall Gallery and whose mural adorns the shuttered Go Fish restaurant, filled notebooks with drawings, scribbles and writing. Being able to peruse them allowed viewers to experience a bit of what it must be like to see through Clark's eyes. Fortunately, Eureka Books gave Clark bound hemp journals, asked him to paint the cover, spine and back, and those remain for sale (426 Second St.). Make your own crazy art book!
Now to Arts! Arcata, happening this Friday. (Aside: can we please declare a moratorium on extraneous exclamations points?) The hippest place to hang out is the still-new Jacoby's Storehouse-based photography studio, appropriately named Arcata Photo Studios. Proprietors are Martin Swett, Sheldon Sabbatini and Terrence McNally (disclaimer: my coworker at the Arcata Eye). They don't invite just any old anybody to hang work on their walls. No, they seek to focus on emerging photographers, "people who haven't done a lot of shows -- and whose take on Humboldt County is a little less pretty," says Terrence. This month, Eureka's Charles McNally (no relation).
If APS roadmarks the cutting edge of A!A, then Arcata Artisans, located on the H Street side of the Plaza, serves as a halfway point, always displaying an eclectic collection of nascent and established artists. This month's featured artists include Oceana Madrone, whose quilts and beadwork inhabit that place where art and craft overlap. No matter your taste, the airy space serves up such a variety, you're bound to find something you like.
Despite its relative newness, Meridian Fine Art Gallery, on Ninth past the glass shop and through the sculpture garden, hosts the most serious of the serious Humboldt County artists. These are familiar names, people making a living by putting paint to canvas. In general, expect landscapes. Really beautiful, well-done landscapes. This month, they're done by Derek Bond. They're pretty, particularly the one with the snowy plover.
See it all Friday, March 13, between 6 to 9 p.m. You'll find full details somewhere else in this paper.