Art to ponder

Bay Area artists show off large-scale abstractions in Chico

MONKEY BUSINESS<br>Lora Groves’ “Fall Suspended, With Monkeys” is a large piece that includes paint and single-stitched monkeys.

Lora Groves’ “Fall Suspended, With Monkeys” is a large piece that includes paint and single-stitched monkeys.

Photo by Alan Sheckter

Lora Groves’ life is immersed in art. An abstract painter who makes her home—and adjacent spacious studio—in the idyllic South Bay hamlet of Pescadero, Groves also enjoys her daytime position as a gallery preparatory, picking up and hanging up world-class art for the nationally renowned Palo Alto Art Center.

The exhibit, Emerging Abstract Painters, contains three works by Groves, along with fellow San Francisco Art Institute master’s of fine arts graduates Sharon Anderson and Kathleen Thompson. Though all can comfortably be called abstracts, the artists make use of different media. Groves chose fabric, Anderson’s oils are on stretched canvas, and Thompson’s bright acrylic offerings are on paper.

Originally planning to use canvas for this set of works, Groves settled on linen after careful consideration of several factors including the coastal humidity and mist, since much of her large-scale work is done outdoors.

“Sometimes the weather participates,” she said. “The pigment will wash off and it became this sort of Zen experience, a mix of accident and intention, and letting go what I had intended. This was way better because it got screwed up and I kind of rolled in the surf and let it toss me around.”

Take “Fall Suspended, With Monkeys,” for example. The thought-provoking, 81-by-46-inch textured and painted off-white fabric piece is shrouded by a second layer of more colorful, imperfectly shaped material. Festooned with a series of dots, and seven whimsical, single-stitched monkeys, the piece leads the viewer’s eye down to a planet-like orb at the bottom of the work. The dots on the sphere appear in red, white and blue.

At first glance, casual viewers might believe these abstracts were created in a few hours. Not so.

“Even though they have an appearance of immediacy, they also have very deliberate aspects,” said Groves, whose works at the 1078 include festive borders. “I was not prepared to do as much sewing. I was an oil snob—this big cowgirl-hurling-paint-at-the-canvas painter. I never would’ve guessed I’d be doing this five years down the road.”

And while Emerging Abstract Painters consists of just nine pieces, viewers get their fill, as each jumbo work of art—comfortably isolated from the others—has plenty to appreciate and plenty to ponder.

Detail of mid-lower right of work.

Photo by Alan Sheckter

The exhibit is the brainchild of the 1078’s J. Pouwels, a New Zealand native and current member of the Chico State University and Shasta College art faculties. A longtime acquaintance of Thompson’s, Pouwels tapped the collective works of the three artists for this unique and unusual gaggle of modern art.

“I was interested to see what kind of art was coming out of the San Francisco Art Institute,” said Pouwels, who in 2004 earned his master’s of fine arts at Miami University in Ohio. “One of the things I was interested in was a certain amount of austerity and I wanted it to be about painting and abstraction—that was paramount.”

Thompson gave Pouwels a list of names and several artists sent in samples. Pouwels narrowed it down to three artists, confirmed the selections with the 1078 review committee, and then invited the artists to Chico. Groves, Thompson (from Sebastopol) and Anderson (from San Francisco) each shuttled four or five works to the gallery, where Pouwels made the final exhibit decisions.

Thompson’s offerings are big, bright and bold works dominated by joyful reds and oranges, augmented with childlike embellishments. Anderson’s paintings nicely contrast Thompson’s, including two large works that present generous amounts of yellow that create what could be interpreted as soft, dappled, reflected sunscapes.

Together, the collection joins three extremely different styles that make a fun journey for those who appreciate art as they sidestep from work to work.