interviews & photos
by BOB DORAN
HUMBOLDT COUNTY IS FULL OF ARTISTS
AND ART LOVERS. OUR THRIVING ARTS organizations tell us this
over and over -- and while it's not exactly something you can
prove conclusively with statistics, it's not hard to verify.
Take a walk around Old Town
during Arts Alive! on the first Saturday of any month, or check
out Arts! Arcata on the second Friday or Ferndale's Fourth Friday
arts walk. You'll find art patrons elbow to elbow sipping wine
from plastic cups and nibbling on cheese and crackers while they
gaze at and discuss art.
And the majority of that art
comes from nearby, from studio spaces above businesses, from
artist's garages, from sheds out back, from whole houses given
over to the creation of art.
This weekend you will have the
opportunity to visit the spaces where art takes shape. The Artist's
Open Studio tour takes place Saturday, June 9, and Sunday, June
10, with 65 artists from Trinidad to Loleta throwing open their
doors. (The complete list of Open Studios
is at the end of this article.) Last week the Journal took a
brief tour of its own to talk to some of the artists about what
they do and why they do it.
We started with Sasha Pepper,
one of the driving forces behind the Open Studio tour. Her studio
is one of many upstairs above the Art Center in Old Town. Hers
is at the end of the dark hall; as you approach you see a number
of her large canvases, most with a similar theme: a single totem-like
figure marked by splashes of vibrant colors. The studio itself
is airy and bright with big windows looking out on 2nd Street.
There are more totem paintings on the walls along with a few
newer abstracts. She clears enough space on a large table covered
with figure sketches for us to sit at the table, and we begin:
What do you do?
"I'm a painter. That's
the main thing I do. And I've been teaching, I've always taught
part time at one place or another. I've been teaching up at Pelican
Bay Prison off and on for the last few years. It's a really interesting
program. I teach them drawing and painting, sometimes printmaking."
How did the open studios
thing come together?
"I had been involved in
open studios in San Francisco for many years; in fact I was involved
back in the early '70s when it first began. It started with artists
getting together; everybody would pick a day and contribute some
money and they'd print up a map or a poster showing where all
the studios are. When I moved here, Susan Fox had a studio in
this building and she was talking about wanting to do a tour
here. I said `OK.' And she is a graphic designer and was willing
to take on the map, which is a big part of it. My part was easy;
I sent out notices and registration forms to artists.
"Everywhere you go there
are artists with work to show and there are always a limited
number of galleries and places to show your work. This offers
artists a chance to get some exposure and show their work in
a relatively inexpensive way. It has been nice, both the Ink
People and Humboldt Arts Council have been very supportive all
along. The first time we had about 43 artists, last year
it was over 50. This time we have 65."
Can you tell me something
about your paintings?
"I've been working with
figures for a long time; this kind of elongated figure evolved.
It just seemed to work for me. I see them almost as spirit figures.
It's about being alive; I see the brush strokes going out as
being about energy. And beyond trying to illustrate an idea,
I also love this sort of painting where you do scraping and splashing.
Sometimes the image just kind of takes on a life of its own and
you work with it. So it's not like a realistic painting where
it's all figured out and you're pretty much filling it in. There's
room for happy accidents.
"Lately I've been playing
around with straight abstraction as a new direction. We'll see
where that goes. I've been playing more with just color and space.
I haven't shown the new things anywhere. But people will see
them if they do the open studio tour."
DOING WHAT SHE WANTS
A jumble of plants lines the
path to the studio behind Dellas' Manila home. Among the flowers
are hand-painted pots and painted wooden creatures. The walls
of her studio are covered with paintings and drawing at various
stages of completion, as are the tables and shelves. She moves
aside some small pieces, things she says she has been framing
to sell on eBay, and makes space at a table covered with little
jars of acrylic paint. Before we start our interview she sprays
a mist of water over the jars. "I hate screwing the lids
back on," she explains.
What do you do?
"I do art. I make things.
I was thinking about putting a label on my work like they do
with recycling: 73 percent post-consumer goods. I recycle and
make a lot of things, but mostly I do paintings."
Do you think of yourself
as a painter?
"I guess I'm primarily
a painter. I don't just paint but even if I make something,
I paint on it, so sure, I suppose I'm a painter. It might seem
like a little bit of a downgrading, but I kind of work in the
tradition of folk artists. That's a pretty wide description,
but I'd say there's some sort of common quality to my work. I'd
have to say high art, like for museums or whatever, the purpose
eludes me. In academia the sort of thing I'm doing is looked
down upon. This kind of medium is considered almost illustrational.
The folk art, lower art thing that I come from is more accessible.
In fact I've had other artists tell me my art is accessible,
for some that is considered a knockdown cut."
That implies that it's better
if people don't understand your art.
"It gets a bit like the
emperor's clothes, like in symbology: What does what mean to
who? Or if your symbolism speaks to people who have advanced
degrees in philosophy versus if you speak to people who work
You mentioned using eBay.
How does that work?
"I started doing it last
year. I've watched the eBay phenomenon; it's kind of interesting
observing the psychology of bidding behavior. I sell under folk
art. The section has about 8,000 items; the fine art paintings
section has maybe 23,000. So I figure that gives me more of a
chance to be seen by people who are shopping for art, folk art,
paintings of chickens, whatever. EBay allows me, for a very low
price, to advertise who I am out there and to provide a link
to my own personal website and gallery and to the Gallery Dog
site. The whole web art thing is still in its infancy, but it's
growing. And I sell a lot of work out of restaurants like Folie
Douce. My first degree was in public relations and what I learned
is that targeting your market is everything, like `location,
location, location.' People are eating an upscale dinner, drinking
a $50 bottle of wine, and `Hey, I've got to have that painting.`"
So one way or another you're
making a living as an artist
"Some people say, `Oh,
you're an artist? I work for a living.' Then they look at you
like there might be something wrong with you. This is a great
lifestyle. I really love it. I think about how happy I am that
I like my job, because a lot of people hate their jobs. I used
to be one of those people."
But now you're an artist,
which is what you wanted to be
"That's good advice for
people: Do what you want to do. If I wasn't an artist, I'd probably
be like criminally insane or something."
FINDING BEAUTY IN EVERYDAY
Alan Sanborn lives in a well-kept
old house in Arcata on H Street where framed watercolors hang
as if in a museum. His workspace is the dining room. When I stopped
by, he had just finished painting, not a watercolor, his kitchen.
Our conversation took place in a cozy breakfast nook.
What do you do?
"I'm a watercolorist. Since
the time I was about 12 I could draw well, I could draw just
about anything. At some point I thought, `Why throw this away,
if it's something I can do well.' But it took years of being
schooled by abstract expressionists and impressionists and abstract
painters for me to realize that it's OK to do representational
stuff. It took another couple of years for me to finally say,
`Yeah, I can make the break and paint representational. There's
nothing wrong with it.'"
Since you say you can draw
or paint just about anything, is there significance to what you
choose to paint?
"When I see something I
want to paint, that's what I want to paint -- period. As I paint,
I learn more and more about what it is I see that I like to paint.
Then again I'd say about half of what I paint is influenced by
the fact that I can sell paintings. Once you become a professional
artist, you can't help but be influenced by the marketplace.
There's no way around it. Even if you painted exactly what you
wanted to at one point in time, if it sold well, that's what
galleries will ask you to paint.
"I probably paint flowers
every fourth painting. If I painted flowers every painting I
would be a much wealthier artist-- you can always sell flowers.
Some of my favorite paintings are of things like cars parked
along the side of a road right after the sun goes down, trucks
behind the town hall, lumberyards. I really like that subject
matter, but realistically I can't do it all of the time. There
was a great quote in one of the eulogies to Morris Graves. His
bottom line was the fact that art should reflect beauty or bring
beauty into our lives. It's a simple thing. I feel like a big
part of what I do is try to find beauty in everyday moments."
Have you reached a point
where you have certain galleries who handle your painting regularly?
"I have three galleries
that I sell in pretty regularly (in Mendocino, Napa and Madison,
Wis.) and a couple that I sell in hardly at all."
Here in Humboldt County?
"No, I don't show here.
People will invite me to be part of a show, or if something is
not really sales oriented I'll participate. It's not that I want
to undercut galleries but (with local galleries) there has been
the problem of me selling stuff that comes back out of my house
for my price, while the gallery had been selling it for double
that price. It's an ethical dilemma."
The phone rings. A gallery in
Eureka calls telling him how much they like his work and asking
if he wants to do a show there. "It's hard for me to show
locally," he explains.
"For some people (selling
in local galleries) is great. But I've been here long enough
so that people here know my work and they know me. Open studios
is great for me, it's become one of my mainstays. I've sold more
at open studios that I've ever sold at any show, any place."
"Once I was offered a good
job opportunity elsewhere, a job that included an old farm house
to live in and two cars to drive, health insurance, a good salary.
I didn't take it. I realized I wouldn't be doing art. When you
come right down to it, it's a good job. And it becomes a job
on a lot of days. The only way you get better at it is to do
it and do it and do it. Nobody wants to do anything 40 hours
a week, but as a job, when it's good, it's great.
I think art is the ultimate
expression of being human. Without it -- well, we might as well
stand out in a field and chew grass or something."
WORKING ON THE UNSOLVABLE
To get to Stock Schlueter's
Old Town studio you enter a nondescript door on C Street between
2nd and 3rd. A box off to the side holds buzzers with name tags
that indicate a who's who of Humboldt painters whose studios
line the hall upstairs: Schlueter, Oats/O'Leary, McVicker, Porter,
Klapproth, LaPlant, Hayes. Schlueter, a modern realist, has just
completed a one-man-show at the prestigious John Pense Gallery
in San Francisco. A recent story in Southwest Arts magazine on
the re-emergence of realism featured his work on the cover. He
straddles a chair as I sink into the overstuffed couch set up
near the large windows that light his easel.
What do you do?
"I do oil paintings, mostly
traditional landscapes. Basically I would be called a realist,
more of a contemporary realist because I use contemporary composition
and design ideas taken from the entire continuum of art. I've
studied art through the ages and I like the modern designs, but
I use the vehicle of traditional landscapes to get my compositions
Do you focus on landscapes
of this area?
"This area is rich in a
variety of landscapes, but when I travel I always shoot photographs
of everywhere I go, so I paint the desert and other places. The
variety here is one of the reasons so many artists live here.
The light is rich. Most places have a singular quality of air
and a singular landscape. Here, within 15 minutes you can be
in the forest, at the ocean, farmlands or urbanscapes, anything
you want is right here.
"I think one advantage
I have in landscape painting is I grew up here. I've hunted and
fished and done all of that stuff, so I've walked over every
avenue of landscape. I understand how the trees grow, the structure
of the brush, the grass, everything. Being intimately involved
helps my understanding. When I paint the brush really walks over
"Why do I paint? Painting
is the unsolvable puzzle. I think every artist has a certain
vision in his mind -- what he wants art to be, what I want a
painting to look like. And you search. That's why we're driven
to look at art; we're searching for the vision we want to see.
I think a painter's responsibility is to observe. That's our
job. Painting is basically a byproduct of observation. We're
communicators basically. And contrary to what most people think,
we work a lot. There's kind of a stereotype of the artist that
we sit around drinking coffee and hanging out. We work all the
time. You only really get significantly better when you paint
every day. When you're really sure of every movement and you
know exactly what you're going to do, it's like having the Disney
brush: You just wave it over the canvas and the painting appears.
"But then there are times
where you might as well be beating on Mount Everest with a hammer.
You might not be sure quite what you want to do, something's
not working, you might change something 15 or 20 times to get
what you want. There's another thing about painting. It's always
challenging, always interesting. It's still work, but I'm doing
something I love to do."
"I'D RATHER BE
Down the hall in another studio,
Linda Mitchell is working on an impressionistic night scene.
It looks like a Paris café, and there are Paris café
scenes on the walls along with an assortment of portraits, but
the painting is actually a view of Old Town.
What do you do?
"I`m an oil painter. I
used to own the Cody Gallery, which we've just closed. It was
a good gallery. I think we did a good job, but I'd rather be
One thing that keeps coming
up as I talk with artists is the marketing aspect, how they get
their work out there?
"Marketing is very difficult
in Humboldt County. Most galleries do something else, like we
did the antiques too, we did auctions, we did all kinds of things
to survive. It's a difficult situation. We kind of had mixed
feelings about open studios. A lot of galleries don't approve
of them because if artists undersell the gallery then the gallery
can't survive. We didn't have a problem selling art, we sold
a lot. It's just we had problems running a business in Old Town.
There is a tremendous market for art here. Almost everything
we sold was local, and people were paying gallery prices. I think
the value of the open studio kind of thing is that people get
to see where artists work. It's a positive thing."
Have you always been involved
"Ever since I got my first
oil paints when I was a teenager I wanted to paint. I went into
graphic arts so I could make a living, but I always wanted to
do painting. In L.A. I worked two jobs just to survive; I had
kids, a family. There was no time for painting. I could only
do it part time.
"Coming here the goal was
to find a place where I could have a simpler life and I could
paint. The studio space is really cheap here. Even though it's
more difficult economically, there are still a lot of people
"Why art? Because it calls
you. You paint because you can't help it. It always amazes me
because most artists really don't make money. They're not doing
art because they want to make money or because they want to be
famous or any of those kinds of things. You paint because you
can't not paint. I wouldn't be happy if I couldn't paint."
And you are happy?
"I'm very happy. I'm especially
happy now that we've closed the gallery and I get to do art all
of the time."
RUSSELL SMITH -
I've lived here in Humboldt
for a year and a half; my wife and I moved up from Bolinas in
West Marin. My work has dealt with the coastal visual elements.
I've narrowed it down presently to two: the sea and the sky.
I don't really care to touch any other subject matter right now.
It's a very simple approach to the seascape, but it also gives
me these large areas to work out and push paint around, which
is what I really love to do.
I don't think
I realized I was cut out for art until recently. Prior to that
photography was a job, something to learn. I guess I wanted to
do it as a career forever. Originally I concentrated on the technical
side and I had an aptitude for that, but in the past decade or
so I realized that my ideas were worthwhile, that my vision could
describe things, people and places. I've learned to trust my
vision, that's what makes your work yours.
- a series
Why art? Well,
you have to. You get an idea and you say, `I can do that. I can
make that.' Then you start, you make it, and maybe it doesn't
turn out, or it turns out but it's not what you want, so you
do another one, and that leads to another until it comes out.
And I don't want to keep the things. They're just ideas and when
I'm finished I get another idea and that leads to another idea.
the art of pottery.
it take to be a potter?
You have to
be a jack-of-all-trades, and it's not just throwing, trimming,
firing, mixing glazes; you're marketing your work. At the same
time I have to have continuity in my identity as a potter continuing
the same forms and throwing forms with integrity, creating objects
that can last beyond my lifetime. I love the sense of getting
in the zone and just throwing and throwing; there's a Zen thing
that happens; you can almost do it with your eyes shut. I just
Coast Open Studios
June 9 & 10, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
A free map showing locations for all
the artists is available in Eureka at the Morris Graves Museum
of Art, the Ink People Center for the Arts, the Art Center and
at Ramone's in Old Town. In Arcata you can find the maps at Northtown
Art and Frame, Wildberries Marketplace and the Co-op.
An exhibition featuring many of the
65 participating artists is on display at Ramone's Bakery and
Cafe, 209 E St., Eureka through June 26. For further information
call the Humboldt Arts Council at 442-0278.
The artists A to Z
painting: watercolor and acrylics,1660 Vancil St., Fortuna.
Janet Anthony, oils, watercolors, printmaking, 207 G St.,
Jacob Bailey, ceramics and metal sculpture, 326 S. G St.,
Ste C, Arcata.
June Beal, painting: acrylics and mixed-media, 3223 W
St., Eureka, 442-8852.
K C Becker, painting: acrylics, 243 Huntoon St., Eureka,
Pamela Becker, monoprints, mixed-media altars, 24 Esther
Lane, Blue Lake, 822-1080.
Julia Bednar, watercolor, acrylics,1866 Golf Course Rd.,
Elaine S. Benjamin (Blue Chair Press), printmaking, mixed-media,
239 Railroad Ave., Blue Lake, 668-0112.
Frances Boettcher, painting: oils; ceramics, 110 Perch
St., Eureka, 442-2832.
Susan Bornstein, printmaking, painting, mixed-media, 537
G St.#204, Eureka, 822-7927.
Kathrin Burleson, painting, 1828 Patricks Point Drive,
Kristen Cohen, painting and mixed-media, 827 Villa Way,
Marian Coleman, ceramics, 1494 Freshwater Rd., Freshwater,
Joy Dellas, painting, ceramics, folk art, 1915 Locke St.,
Marj Early, painting: water media, 221 Ponderosa Ct.,
Michael R., East, acrylics, 207 G St. #115, Eureka, 445-3404.
Barney Elking, woodcarving; sculpture, 136 Main St., Fortuna.
Jill Juree Faulkner, painting: oils, 1220 Creek Ct., McKinleyville
Fire Arts Center, ceramics, tiles, glass, 520 S. G St.,
Libby George, pastels and mixed-media, 940 Samoa Blvd.,
Lynne Gurnee, printmaking, acrylics, watercolors, 3446
Lowell St., Eureka.
Kay Harden, Ink drawing, mixed-media, 207 G St., #102,
Geta Hershberger, watercolors, 95 Anker Rd., Fieldbrook,
Joyce Jonte, watercolors, pastels, 940 Samoa Blvd., #212,
Nancy Kennedy (High Fiber Designs), weaving, 1042 J St.,
Magdalena Keyes, watercolors, 1446 C St., Eureka.
Thao Le Khac, watercolors and acrylics, 940 Samoa Blvd.,
Mary Ann Kirtley, sculpture, masks, bowls 2320 Albee St.,
Juanita Larson, painting: watercolors; mixed media, 207
G St., #109, Eureka.
Peggy Loudon, ceramics, 148 Myrtle Court, Arcata, 822-1925.
Carol Lucas, oils, watercolors, 2320 Albee St., Eureka,
Mark Lufkin, photography, 202 Third St., Eureka.
Holly MacKay, painting, mixed-media, 940 Samoa Blvd.,
Oceana Madrone, beads, quilts, dolls,1519 Fox Farm Rd.,
Jenifer Mattox, watercolors, sculpture, 1446 C St., Eureka,
Emma McDowell, painting: oils, watercolors, 1446 C St.,
Liz McGannon, mosaics; glass,1815 Aspen Ct., McKinleyville,
Linda Mitchell, painting: oils, 208 C St., Eureka.
Graham Moody, painting and collage, 364A Main St., Loleta,
Shelly Mortensen, watercolors, 1446 C St., Eureka.
Michelle Murphy-Ferguson, oils, monotypes, mixed-media,
207 G St., #109, Eureka.
Curtis Otto, oils and acryllics; drawings, 902 E St.,
Sasha Pepper, painting: oils; monotypes, 207 G St., #105,
Cathy Ray Pierson, ceramics, 132 Azalea Way, Eureka, 443-1665.
Bill Pinches, woodcarving: water bird decoys, 236 Boynton
Prairie Rd., Arcata.
Steve Porter, painting: oils, watercolors, 208 C St.,
Barbara Pulliam, watercolors; printmaking; pastels, 2314
Garland St., Eureka.
Kate Purcell, ceramics, 2572 Myrtle Avenue, Eureka, 442-7490.
Heather Rust, acrylics, mixed-media; jewelry,1662 Stromberg,
Alan Sanborn, watercolors; prints, 1491 H St., Arcata,
Stock Schlueter, painting: oils, 208 C St., Eureka.
Jeanne C. Scranton, photography, 221 Ponderosa Ct., Eureka.
Patricia Sennott, watercolor; monotypes, 16th St. between
H and I sts., Arcata. 822-7497.
Frank Shelley, ceramics, 326 South G St., Arcata.
Pat Sherman, photography, 1446 C St., Eureka, 269-9437.
Russell Smith, oils and acrylics, 207 G St. #111, Eureka,
Barbara Stamps, ceremonial rattles, furniture, 3312 Lowell
Dolores Terry, oil and acrylics,1866 Golf Course Rd, Bayside.
Mary Ann Testagrossa, watercolors, 350 Spruce St.,Eureka,
Lisa Marie Waters, pastels, prints, 1433 11th St. Studio
D, Arcata, 822-1600.
Adrienne Werth, painting: watercolors, 207 G St., Eureka.
John Wesa, serigraphy, 1255 Creek Ct., McKinleyville,
Michael F. Woods, painting: oils, 208 C St., Eureka, 269-0297.
Peter Zambas, painting: oils, 406 Ocean Ave., Trinidad.
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