Summer is the season for group exhibitions. The 61st annual open-call summer exhibition at Redwood Arts Association, held in honor of longtime member Julia Bednar, opens this month with an un-themed show of mostly painting and photography on both floors. A couple blocks away at the Ink People's Brenda Tuxford Gallery, a themed group exhibition titled Floating Worlds puts together a roster of artists who are, in the words of curator Grethe von Frausing-Borch, "looking back at looking forward to the glamor of adulthood."
"This show ... explores the theme of what we thought being an adult would be like as a kid. Think of it as sort of a personal retro-futurism," Von Frausing-Borch writes. Several of her own watercolor paintings are in the show; they "explore a fantasy of adulthood created from the television, movies, books and magazines (I) absorbed as a child." Small, impressionistic renderings in loose curving brushstrokes illustrate scenes from this small girl's touchingly anachronistic maturity-idyll: Delicate, doll-like figures promenade in couture, recline glamorously on beaches and dance the tango with faceless tuxedoed males. "King of Diamonds," by Arupa, delivers differently on the exhibition brief by centering an abstracted face on a diamond-shaped field, presenting adult cognizance as an inward turn. Smiling lips, sleepy-lidded eyes and pendulous gauged earlobes make shorthand for the life contemplative; rays streaming from a diamond-shaped third eye suggest the astral plane.
A couple of blocks away, the RAA group show is strong on landscape and nature scenes. Representations of local places, birds and animals range from pen and ink contour drawing (Karen Merry's "Dragon, Jellies and Frogfish") and plein-air watercolor (John P. Jameton's "Arcata Marsh") to expressionistic gouache (Elsie Mendes' attentively observed "Mother Goose with Goslings"). As ever, an open-call exhibition format makes for an unfocused, yet predictable viewing experience. But there are artworks here with the capacity to surprise and charm.
The imagery in Katie Pasquini Masopust's quilt "Spring Equinox" looks from a distance like a black and white screen being splashed with golden light. Up close you can see that the effect is being generated by dozens or perhaps hundreds of individually stitched fabric pieces shaped like circles, spirals and lozenges. The bubbled texture of many fabrics adds a dimension of volumetric relief. Yael Burkes' untitled fiber piece, mounted horizontally on the wall, presents an undulating surface of interlocking fibers in melting sunset colors that could describe forms at either macro or micro scale. Taken in conjunction with the strong fiber-arts exhibition RAA mounted this spring, these pieces speak to the quality of the work being produced locally in this medium.
The same is true of photography. In Jon Exley's panoramic "Garment Party," colorful T-shirts printed with radiating hippie emblems twist in the wind, alligator-clipped by wire hangers against a blue and gold California landscape. It's disorienting — one part kite festival, one part cipher for an embodied human gathering. A very different photograph, Diane Schoenfeld's silver gelatin print "Woman with Her Beloved Dogs" frames a woman and two shaggy-jawed wolfhounds as shifting apex points of an isosceles triangle. While it's interesting to see how making a classic triad portrait composition multi-species can enliven it — what lingers in the memory is the intensity of the subject's look and the state of rapt absorption the photographer captured. Schoenfeld's formally elegant, psychologically incisive photographs have made solo appearances in several RAA group shows now; hopefully soon we'll have a chance to see them in one another's company.
Amidst competent renderings of marshes around Humboldt Bay and snow-capped Trinity Alps, Irina Abolasik's abstract painting "Universe Impressions from Humboldt" is an outlier: It says more about the human dimension of the place. It's a murky expanse of green-blue paint shot through with jagged streaks of light and populated with wiggly protoplasmic forms, looking exactly as if someone had been blowing an epic series of smoke rings in Eureka on a sunny day and then those concentric rings kept on floating until they hit the atmosphere's outer reaches and drifted off into intergalactic space, infusing the cosmos with a homeopathic tincture of Humboldt.
The Redwood Art Association's 2019 Summer Exhibition will be on view through July 19 at 603 F St. in Eureka. "Floating Worlds" will be on view at the Brenda Tuxford Gallery at 525 Seventh St. in Eureka through July 27.
Gabrielle Gopinath is an art writer, critic and curator based in Arcata.