Women artists’ group mounts fascinating exploration of themes
For nearly two decades, a group of Chico women artists and friends has been meeting regularly to create artwork around certain themes and then discuss its work. Under the nom de collective “The Bag Ladies,” the group has grown from seven to 11 women. They mounted their first exhibition in 1997 and this year are back with their second, an installation at the Chico Art Center entitled “Women of Few Words.” The works on display would take much more than a few words to describe and praise adequately.
The group includes Christina Aranguren, Kathy Bechard, Betty Benson, Laurie Combs, Ruelene Fillerup, Dee Leach, Frances Miller, Lois Perkins, Ann Pierce, Thelma Safarik and Lea Wagner. Their work ranges from collage, assemblage and found objects to more traditional pigment on surface and from abstract to images from life, and all of it serves to interpret—or take off from—various phrases, such as: “To Make a Portrait of a Bird,” “Let Love Melt into Memory and Pain into Song,” and “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue.”
Entering the exhibit space, one comes first to Ann T. Pierce’s “Favorite Things,” an assemblage of rocks on a colorful striped rug. The piece is approximately 6 feet long and 20 inches wide and is set on a low surface. Pierce has taken some 30 ovoid rocks ranging from ostrich-egg size to small pebbles and placed them in a row of descending scale. Behind this is another row arranged in opposite order, while between these two rows are five small stacks of flat rocks, small monuments, river-worn markers. Simple, perhaps, but satisfying and pleasurable to catch the artist’s sensibilities against the remembered chaos of streambed rocks.
Using the most “few words,” so to speak, is Betty Benson. Among other things, she exhibits a collage book, spiral bound, under Plexiglas and provides a copy of same for perusal. Poems and sparse text are conjoined with rich images.
Lois Perkins’ “Fish Music” interprets “All the Air Is Filled with the Pleasant Noise of Water.” A wide narrow panel is divided into two sections. The smaller bottom section shows red maple leaves against a black background. Above this, against a brownish background is a school of small black calligraphic fish shapes swimming among bits of music notation. The effect is Zen-like, evoking peace and quiet wit.
Starting from “To Make a Portrait of a Bird,” Thelma Safarik’s “Portrait of a Bird” is a close-up portrait of a woman with peacock-feather shapes behind, done in rich fauvist colors. Laurie Combs’ mixed-media “Portrait of a Bird” depicts a wry primitive landscape with a pond with fish and lily pads, a yellow bird on a branch of a tree and a cat with a word balloon containing “meow meow.”
Francis Miller’s “Bird” is a flamingo skillfully done in watercolor, greatly outdistancing the kitschy associations of the pink fowl.
“In Praise of …” generates a nice contrast between Miller’s realistic and subtle “Cabbage Gathering” and Lea Wagner’s colorful flowers in “Spring.” Combs’ “In Praise of Kylan/Hypolaugimus” is signed “Kylan Ayon and Laurie Combs” and appears to be a collaboration between the artist and a child. The piece seems like a child’s view of a king in his palace, a primitive image and powerful as a dream fragment.
Christina Aranguren’s mixed-media “Fool’s Gold” is a large work, perhaps 6 feet wide by 4 feet high. A fiery orange-red surrounds a rectangle landscape: a field of sunflowers that recedes into the distance to meet ambiguous aqua-colored shapes, all under a pale blue sky. It’s quite a beautiful work and suggestive of a Buddhist idea of the brevity of transitory phenomena.
So many good works by good artists. So few words to describe it all, and so little time left to give yourself a treat and visit the Chico Art Center to see the exhibit.