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Freedom to Wonder 

This is a story about place and the relationship of two artists to their place. One grew up moving around the United States and eventually around the world. His father worked for the United Nations and so the artist, as a boy, lived in Burma, Bangladesh, India, Uganda and Turkey. He grew up under the influence of the various cultures - "not so much studying them, as living with them. Seeing architecture and costumes and jewelry and museums and ruins." He also spent a lot of time alone, out in nature doing "fanciful things." That was Richard Duning's experience.

Duning's good friend Harry Blumenthal grew up in Atlanta. When Blumenthal was a boy, Atlanta was still a relatively small town and surrounded by woods. He and his pals spent most of their free time in the woods, and got to know them intimately. There were certain places they were drawn to, others were carefully avoided. Some trees were inviting and others were not. There were specific places on the creek, the stones from which were like money to the boys. Blumenthal had a deep connection to the landscape of his youth, and it was all taken away at the age of 12. Much later in life, he realized what that meant to him.

"When we lose our connections with our Earth Mother," he says, "there is always suffering because that connection is an aspect of our truth." At the age of 12, he had to leave his original landscape. He grew up, he came to know other landscapes, he became a painter. He studied and practiced his art for many years and then changed careers. He became a psychotherapist and did not paint for several years. It may sound strange, but this worked well for his painting. "My art had become painfully tight," he says.

Then, about a year and a half ago, he started to "learn to paint all over again." In his artist's statement, he quotes T. S. Eliot to describe the process: We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

But just as he was coming back to his painting, he was also coming around to the landscape of his youth. Not physically, but in spirit. The connection to the land and the importance of that connection started making itself apparent in his work.

So now these two men bring together their story of connections and disconnections to the world around them. Their paintings and sculptures are on exhibit at Piante Gallery in Eureka through May 3. Each has a room of his own work and one room combines the work of the two.

Duning is larger than life, with a rich deep voice, masses of silver jewelry and a dramatic visage. His work is like him - nothing about it is timid. His oversized canvases are thick with impasto, the colors are rich and contrast strikingly. His smaller works are done loosely and are reminiscent of simple, elegant Chinese brush painting, but the brashness is still there. He works intuitively and primarily from imagination. His figures, he says, are done from a model, but he does not have the model hold a pose. They often dance or move about the studio, and you can see that in the way he draws or paints them. And with this bold hand, his work, "is the imagination exploring the fact that we share much of our genome with all the other forms of life on this planet."

Blumenthal's work is more complicated. Full of colors and symbols, each one is bursting with concepts. Blumenthal thinks too much for his own good. I'm guessing it's a burden on him at times, but it works well in his art. It's not "painfully tight," anymore. Like Duning, Blumenthal works intuitively, often turning the canvases or painting over the work in order to "allow an image to come from the unconscious."

What is important in Blumenthal's current work is not simply the relationship to a particular landscape of his youth, but the fact that, because of it, he has always been able to recognize his place in the world. "Finding our place in this greater than human reality offers us a sense of coming home. We become a part of the beauty; we are no longer separate. Humans do have the freedom to find wonder in all of life."

There are three other shows this month that deserve special note. Through the month of April, you can see the work of the Eureka Photoshop Users Group at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates (211 F St., Eureka). "Everything I learn using Photoshop increases my creative ability." "There are simply unlimited tools and methods to utilize," says member Robert Fasic. The Eureka Photoshop Users Group meets the fourth Saturday of each month. Visitors and new members are welcome. For more information about the group, visit their website at

In the Tom Knight Gallery of the Morris Graves Museum (636 F St., Eureka) through May 20, you can see Deborah Corsini's exhibit *Linear Expression.*Corsini has been weaving for more than 30 years and exhibits her work nationally. This exhibition highlights her bold colors, zigzag stripes and scalloped selvages characteristic of the wedge weave, a technique she employs in which the wefts are woven at an angle to the warp. If you love textiles, you have to check this out.

And finally, Humboldt State University First Street Gallery is pleased to present The Oaxaca-Humboldt Print Exchange. Featured artists will include Shinzaburo Takeda and his students from la Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca, in México, as well as Professor Sarah Whorf and her students from Humboldt State University. This cultural exchange between the two universities and their communities features a wide variety of printmaking processes. The work will be on exhibit through May 20. The Gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and is located at 422 First St., Eureka.

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About The Author

Katherine Almy

Katherine lives in the magical land of Humboldt County, California, with her husband Richard and their son, who just happens to be the most intelligent and beautiful child on the planet. She is a frequent contributor to the North Coast Journal and Artweek Magazine. She blogs and writes at more

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