Abstract impressions of public art

Funny how life takes synchronistic routes. I didn’t have Jason Cassidy’s cover story in mind when I put Richard Ek’s commentary in the last issue, nor when I went to Orient & Flume on a whim and Chico Paper Company to buy a birthday gift. Yet here I am, invigorated by local galleries, awaiting Art 1st Saturday, anticipating readers’ discovery of “raw” artists and moderating a Letters discussion on public art. Synchronicity, indeed.

Maria Phillips of Avenue 9 Gallery felt so strongly about Ek’s piece that she wrote a Guest Comment. Without stealing her thunder, let me give my view, which is somewhat different from hers anyway.

Whether you consider Chico one of the nation’s top art towns or just the lucky recipient of an author’s accolades, we clearly live in a creative mecca. Diverse work abounds: art glass, paintings, drawings, jewelry, sculptures, performances, poetry, prose, multimedia. There’s a treasure trove here that enriches the region.

Here’s the thing about art: Its value varies from appraiser to appraiser. Not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, no sets of eyes are exactly alike, so what’s worth looking at varies widely.

I hate the horns … I mean, elms, in City Plaza. Actually, I don’t like much there—too esoteric for my sensibilities. So is the Park Avenue plow, which I had no idea was supposed to be a plow until someone told me. I’m more of a Jake Early kind of guy: graphic style, clean lines, sharp contrast. (That’s why I have two Patrick Nagel lithos sitting in the garage, waiting for an ’80s art revival or a change of heart by my wife.)

Critics love Jake Early. So do collectors. That’s why his prints cost a small fortune, at least as far as my cash flow goes. That’s OK—I browsed through Chico Paper Company for the better part of an hour, I got to enjoy them for free, and what I bought was more in my price range … and outside my box. It’s a ceramic tile in the vein of this to the right.

Jo Anna Richer may not be world-renowned, but I like her work. So does the gift-getter, now that she’s seen it. (Whew!)

I love a lot of stuff at Orient & Flume, too, like the opaque shapes with luminescent elements inside the glass. I picked out a couple of presents there, including one like this to the left.

My taste is by no means reflective of anyone else’s. Whether you agree doesn’t matter, unless you’re stuck in my house or I buy something for yours. Whether critics agree also doesn’t matter.

My eyes, my perception, my money.

Public art comes out of everyone’s pocket. For that, we need some degree of agreement. This, in theory, is why there’s an Art Commission—to represent the community’s preferences. We’ll never have consensus, nor can we even have a rule like Ek’s “no abstract art,” because abstraction is relative.

We’ll never all agree on which art to commission, or where or how; but we can agree why. An art town, “Top 10” or otherwise, needs to support its artists.