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September 7, 2006

Art Beat

Organic Collage

by KATHERINE ALMY


art by Patricia EraI've always been impressed with the Westhaven Center for the Arts (WCA). They have a smallish building, but they use the space well. What they lack in size they more then make up for with enthusiasm. A dedicated group of volunteers, artists and community members put together art shows, workshops, concerts and drama events. They do a lot of free children's arts and crafts workshops that I'd like to check out with my son. I went up there the other day because I was curious about the latest show that was going up. The title, "Fruit of the Organic Collage," captured my fancy, and I had to go talk with the artist, Patricia Bath.

Patricia, who goes by her nom d'arte Patricia Era for art shows, is a part-time resident of Trinidad. She's a native New Yorker (a fact that becomes immediately apparent in conversation) but has lived on the West Coast since the '70s. She retired from her "day job" as an eye surgeon and professor of ophthalmology several years ago, and has since devoted her time to her art. She'd always been interested in art, more as a collector and appreciator, but was encouraged by artist friends to create her own images. She works principally with collage and is inspired by the bits and pieces she picks from the beaches and forests of the North Coast.

I expected that her work as an ophthalmologic surgeon would be entwined in her work more, but it isn't really. When we spoke, she was quite modest about her career, and didn't mention the fact that she's quite famous in the medical world for her groundbreaking work as inventor of the Laserphaco Probe, which is used in the treatment of cataracts. She did mention, though, that she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, and her work with that organization took her around the world.

Three of the pieces in the show were created in response to her work with children in Tanzania, where blindness is much more prevalent than it is in this country. The childlike faces with damaged eyes and found objects bring to mind the playfulness of children. The collages are both sad and hopeful, suggesting the work of someone who has done much to help many, but is still frustrated by how much more could and should be done.

Other pieces touch on universal themes that we all struggle with: love, passion, the battle of the sexes. She shows the harsh realities many women face in explorations of "women struggling to protect their children in times art by Patricia Eraof war and famine." The pieces, collectively called the "Madonna" series, are crucifixes in form, bringing to mind the question: Who really bears the crosses in our society? The "She" series illustrates male objectification of women and the struggles of women in the home and workplace.

A series titled, "Love," celebrates the union of couples and their love. In her artist statement, she quotes Bertrand Russell, whose passions drove him "to the very verge of despair," but whose belief in the power of love brings hope. One piece that particularly struck me is "Madonna Vinci Omni." With gentle curves and a tender embrace, a mother and child represent perhaps the strongest bond of all.

This wise and passionate artist is joined by her friend and colleague David Pine. David, who lives in New York City and works as a psychiatrist, comes from a family of creative and artistic folk. This is his first art show until now his art has been more of a hobby. But Patricia recognized his skill and invited him to be a part of this show. His theme of the circle compliments his friend's work nicely.

David is not the first to be captured by the beauty and simplicity of the circle, nor will he be the last. It has long been regarded as a magical or spiritual shape, with its reference to the cycle of the seasons, the cycle of birth and death, even the shape of our planet. The photographs he presents here are images of circular shapes he's found in his daily life and travels. The theme was initiated by his painting which "mimics stains from coffee mugs." The canvas is filled with brown, smudgy circles on a dirty blue background. He photographed the painting and brought the photo to show here.

While David has a ways to go to reach the poignant social significance of Patricia's work, his simple, elegant pictures work well with the more aggressive work of his colleague.

If you've never been to the WCA, you really should go. They are located at 501 So. Westhaven Drive just take the Westhaven exit and follow it up the hill. The center is open Thursday through Sunday from 1-4 p.m. Patricia and David's show will be up through Sept. 24. Coming in October is the WCA's third annual All Media Juried Show, with a gripping award ceremony (no one but the judge will know in advance who will receive an award) on Sunday, Oct. 1 from 1-5 p.m.

TOP LEFT: INFINITE BY PATRICIA ERA AT WESTHAVEN CENTER FOR THE ARTS
ABOVE RIGHT: LOSTHEAR BY PATRICIA ERA.

Got a local exhibit or art event that might make a good story? Send your art news to almy@arcatanet.com or write in care of the North Coast Journal, 145 South G Street, Suite A, Arcata, CA. 95521.


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