Darker end of the spectrum

Chico painter Christina Aranguren forgoes bright palate for monochromatic experiments

PAINT BY LETTERS<br>Christina Aranguren considers one of her large ransom-note collages on exhibit at the Chico Municipal Building.

Christina Aranguren considers one of her large ransom-note collages on exhibit at the Chico Municipal Building.

Photo By laura brown

One’s eye meets the monochromatic stormy skies and roiling seas of Christina Baiocchi Aranguren’s “Diurnal” and “Nocturnal” paintings, and the mood one feels is a peaceful stillness.

It’s an elegant move that only an artist of Aranguren’s caliber can pull off—producing visually kinetic works of art, like these pieces gracing the first-floor walls of the Chico Municipal Center, that inspire an opposing calm, meditative state.

Aranguren is a lover of contrasts—of emotion, of color, of elements in nature, even within people.

“A lot of my female friends have a lot of male in them, and vice-versa,” the pert, petite, short-haired brunette observes.

So in a way it should come as no surprise—even though she admits that it took her by surprise—that Aranguren’s current show departs significantly from everything that she has ever done in the 20-plus years leading up to this new body of work, her favorite to date.

It’s not the meticulousness of her current work, however, that contrasts so markedly with what came before. An artist all of her adult life, the 50-year-old Aranguren has a long-standing reputation for a meticulous eye for detail, as exemplified by her now-signature watercolor paintings of colorful schools of swimming, swarming koi. Aranguren, who has a master of arts degree in fine art with an emphasis on painting from CSU Chico, and has also studied art in Florence, Italy, has always employed a very careful hand in her work, even in her most abstract paintings.

Known for an expressive and fearless use of color, and often formally composed, astonishingly beautiful paintings of visually interesting subjects such as her favored koi or proud Sicilian and Dutch chickens, Aranguren did an artistic 180 in coming up with the pieces in her latest show. This collection of contemplative, often unconsciously motivated, black-and-white-toned multimedia pieces (which spans all three floors of City Hall) was inspired by an unexpectedly rainy January trip to the Mendocino coast. Also included in the show are some labor-intensive, large-scale, collaged “ransom notes,” including “Dada Desiderata,” a three-part homage to the early 20th-century European cultural movement dubbed Dada and its hero, French artist Marcel Duchamp.

The eight pieces that make up her “Diurnal Series” and “Nocturnal Series” use the combined techniques of drawing, painting and stenciling over delicate lace with a powdered-graphite-filled “pounce bag” to create moody skies and changing weather.

Examples from Aranguren’s “Nocturnal Series”

Photo By laura brown

“My [late] father was an amateur astronomer and meteorologist, and we had ‘star parties’ when I was a kid,” Aranguren reflects when prodded to talk more about the impetus for her latest work. “As a result, I love night skies and weather.”

Aranguren’s weather-inspired work is done with the same careful hand as the rest of her show. “The Pearl Fishers,” for one, on the second floor, is a three-piece abstract stunner featuring the barest suggestion of a guitar (music lover Aranguren often finds that suggestions of musical instruments just seem to appear in her abstracts).

Part sensitive aesthetician and part “tomboy,” Aranguren is as comfortable in her studio painting pictures of delicate, creamy yucca flowers or in the garden carefully tending roses or espaliered fig trees, as she is riding her bicycle to Cohasset and back every second day of the week or hauling dirt in a wheelbarrow. An avid cyclist, Aranguren and her husband, local jazz saxophonist Bob Aranguren, rode their mountain bikes from Chico to Fort Bragg this past May—a rugged, back-road trip that took five days each way.

Back in the 1980s and early ‘90s, Aranguren simultaneously worked as an interior designer and for her husband at the now-defunct KW Auto Wreckers.

“I’d do anything he needed,” Aranguren recalls, “from racking parts to delivering an engine in the back of a flatbed to an auto repair shop in Quincy.”

“One day I’d be in jeans and work boots and the next day I’d be in high heels and a skirt down at the Design Center in San Francisco,” Aranguren continues. “I’m a paradox. I knew that at a young age.”