Unexpected Landscapes

June 7th, 2014

This article originally appeared on June 6, 2014 in The Alamedan. Michele Ellson, editor.

Making great art requires great talent, and a little luck. Whether pressing a shutter release or dragging a brush across canvas, the outcome is uncertain. Jan Watten goes on local photo safari shooting with her trusty Holga, but she always has at least one camera on her — her iPhone — and she records whatever life throws her way.

Ginny Parsons’ subject is less happenstance: She walks to nearby Lincoln Park, takes a photograph, and returns to her studio to begin painting. For her, the unexpected nature of the landscapes is in the materials.

The artists are exhibiting their “Unexpected Landscapes” together at Rhythmix Cultural Works’ K Gallery.


Ginny Parsons, "Lincoln Park Series"

Ginny Parsons, “Lincoln Park Series,” paint and mixed-media

The pairing was suggested by Rhythmix founder and artistic director Janet Koike, who found the artists’ work “complementary” in drawing inspiration from nature and their “abstract and emotional take on landscape.” Parsons also sees commonality in the direction their work is taking — both “moving towards abstraction.”

Watten’s most abstract piece is “Gibbons in the Rain,” the title of which had some visitors at the opening reception searching the image for primates. But rather than an homage to “Gorillas in the Mist,” the landscape shows trees on Alameda’s Gibbons Drive, photographed through the rain-dappled windshield of Watten’s car.

Jan Watten, "Gibbons in the Rain," Photograph.

Jan Watten, “Gibbons in the Rain,” Photograph.

“I might have been driving my daughter to school,” Watten said. “As I was driving I noticed the big splotches on my windshield. I liked that the silhouettes of the trees become blurry. They were very simple but I loved the quality of the drops on the windshield.”

Jan Watten, "Red Wall Tree," Photograph.

Jan Watten, “Red Wall Tree,” Photograph.

Watten’s photos — the majority of which were taken in Alameda — include some of her older work shot on film with her Holga and developed in a darkroom, along with color images taken with her iPhone that are all “brand spanking new.” The list includes “Red Wall Tree,” a C-Print with such dramatic color that one could easily take it to have been heavily manipulated; in fact, Watten only alters her images to crop them or adjust the contrast slightly.

“I was driving home from Rockridge and I was turning the corner and there was this tree,” Watten said of finding this unexpected landscape. “The sun was setting in this particular way and my eye caught it and I pulled over. It really just called to me. The light was catching it in a way that was so surreal. It was one of those special moments.”

Watten said she kept he camera wither her at all times, and would just shoot when something inspired her. “The way I shoot today is very spontaneous,” she said. “I’m seeing an image, I’m driving, I pull over, I photograph it. I realize in my life that works. I’m much busier than I’d like to be, but I still want to be involved in photography.”

Among the work Parsons contributed are several large landscapes with a more abstract take on Lincoln Park, as well as one depicting a road trip she took as a teenager, all painted on doors. When asked whether the doors represented a metaphorical passage, endings or new beginnings, Parsons replied, “No, not so much.” Rather, having just seen David Hockney’s “A Bigger Exhibition” exhibit at the de Young, she was inspired to paint something large. Also, the reuse of materials at hand is a hallmark of Parsons’ work, and when friends who were remodeling their home removed some doors they no longer needed, she had found her canvases.

Ginny Parsons, painting/mixed-media

Ginny Parsons, painting/mixed-media

Neighbors know of Parsons’ passion for reuse, and works in the show include house paint that was dropped off on her front porch along with bacon grease — for shine — and crunchy peanut butter used as an emulsion into which she sprinkles other materials. “It’s the kind that separates. The kind my kids don’t like,” Parsons said. “If it was Skippy it never would have made it to the canvas.”

In addition to not knowing what materials will come her way, “the unexpectedness comes from the way I move paint around,” Parsons said. “It comes in how things drip. Some were painted outside, so part of the drip is influenced by the wind.”

When first graders from Edison Elementary visited K Gallery on a field trip, one student shyly told her, “When I first saw this I thought you messed up with the drips.” Parsons explained how beauty can be created serendipitously. Then they each did their own painting in the gallery, many tipping their papers to allow the paint to find its own path, each creating their own unexpected landscape.

The gallery will be open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 7 in conjunction with Pro Arts’ Open Studios. It is also open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and the second Friday of every month, and by appointment. The exhibit continues through July 3. K Gallery is located at Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Avenue. 865-5060. http://www.rhythmix.org/current-exhibit/

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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