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Imaginary Realms

Wild animals stalk into Regina Case's new works



The house is still at just after 5 o'clock in the morning. A single light illuminates the studio, streaming out the large windows and casting a soft glow on a koi pond whose inhabitants are sleepily tucked under rocks and moss. Soft pinks and warm oranges of dawn are just peeking around the edges of the eastern sky while birds greet the day. Inside, the smell of coffee warms the room. The artist sits in her favorite chair, soaking in the calm. A spiral of steam rises from her mug and twists into the air. It's her favorite part of the day.

For Regina Case, a Eureka painter widely known for her sumptuous, vibrantly colored interiors, this morning ritual is essential to the development of her paintings. It's a time when the struggles of the day have yet to arrive, and she finds herself most open to her imagination. Curled up and gazing at her pinned-up work in progress, Case uses this moment to literally live within her imagined space. She moves through it, discovering its secrets and seeing what it will suggest to her. By the time the sun has filled her studio windows, she's made a plan and begins her day of painting.

Most viewers will immediately recognize Regina Case's unique style. Ethereal and mysterious, her compositions explore a delicate boundary between inside and outside worlds. Imaginary, Zen-like interiors, lush with passionate color, float over dreamscapes inspired by water, stone and sky. Brush strokes abound, wind drifts through, serenity settles in. And usually, an animal wanders past, gracing the space with a touch of the unexpected. Dogs are common visitors to Case's paintings, but her Arts! Arcata show this month invites a wilder bunch.

"Wild: Beyond the Domestic Images," featured at The Upstairs Gallery, will bring Case's new body of work to the public for the first time. On display now through May 31, these new paintings continue Case's familiar imagery, with a twist. Tigers, ibis, wolves and cranes poke and prowl through the dappled light of panoramic fantasy vistas and brilliantly rich rooms.

Admittedly soft-spoken and shy, Case generally prefers to let her emphatic images speak for her. When asked, though, she elaborates about her deliberate inclusion of an exciting new set of animals. Concerned over the onslaught of problems wild animals face nowadays, Case seeks to honor and bring awareness to "those who we share the wild spaces with."

She is intentionally avoiding a more political vein, yet intends for the paintings to work on a subconscious level. In one new composition titled "African Wild Dogs," she has abandoned an interior space completely, giving the creature front-and-center status. A flat-topped purple mountain wreathed with clouds looms over the wild dog, which is turned, staring directly at the viewer. To Case, the message is obvious: It's now or never for many of these animals.

The weightiness of her message, veiled as it may be, refuses to intrude on the understated beauty that defines Case's work. These paintings are proud, peaceful productions validating an artist who leans on her past but keeps looking forward. Spaces inspire her, and her well-practiced perspectives are flawless in their execution. Sprinkled shafts of light splinter over walls and chairs. The curve of a river caresses the confines of a window frame. Angular rafter beams gleam off the subtle shapes of a polar bear.

Case begins each painting with an idea, but leaves open the opportunity for change. Working on lightweight, smooth cotton canvas, she starts with a precise drawing. A string tied to her lamp ensures crisp vanishing points and extended receding lines. Once the space is properly defined, she begins filling it with lavish turquoise blues, blood-orange reds and golden yellows. The textures left behind by her swift, scribbly brushstrokes sit on the defined surfaces of her paintings, giving an atmospheric effect. Case's sure hand breathes life into the work, while her deft touches prevent the rigid compositions from getting stiff.

As the paintings evolve, Case lets each work speak to her and take on a life of its own. "I don't set out with the animals or a particular space in mind," she says. The intense colors and snappy shapes intrigue her, as well as the interplay between the interior space and the illusionary world framed by her windows. These paintings are first and foremost abstractions, externally depicting Case's inner reality.

Eventually the space suggests an inhabitant to her. In "Night Wolf," for example, one can imagine Case dreaming of a visit by this exquisite creature, only to realize it in a painting. However, there is plenty of space in these works for viewers to fill it with their own meanings as well. "Blue Wolves," another featured painting, seduces with translucent aquamarine hovering above charred almond and walnut tones. Plum browns and apricots frame cool violets and hazy cobalt peaks, inviting a mysterious narrative.

Case paints these works at her tidy desk, brushes and colors tucked neatly away in cups and drawers. She paints flat — a habit leftover from years of watercolor. About 10 times each day, seven days a week, Case has to pin the work up so that she can back away from it for a better overall view. Her dogs patiently wait, watching her dance back and forth between the wall and the desk. Sometime during the afternoon she'll pin the work up, done for the day, and take the dogs for a walk. The painting rests, drying, ready for her to muse on it once more the following morning.

An outdoors enthusiast, Ken Weiderman unequivocally supports Case's

concern for wild creatures and the spaces they inhabit.


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