Preserving place

Artists focus on Chico’s “Endangered Icons” for annual exhibit

Pam House’s “Sycamore Winter,” a digitally edited photograph of endagered Sycamores around One Mile Pool in Bidwell Park.

Pam House’s “Sycamore Winter,” a digitally edited photograph of endagered Sycamores around One Mile Pool in Bidwell Park.

Chico Icons runs through Sept. 1 at Avenue 9 Gallery Hours: Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.

Avenue 9 Gallery
180 E. 9th St.

“Orange Street Warehouses, Layers of Time,” a water-media painting by Dolores Mitchell, renders a vision of the iconic Chico buildings marked with telling blurriness. A mixture of hazy grays and bursts of bright color, made with expressionistic watercolor brushstrokes, the warehouses, long a staple of Chico’s west side, emerge as closer to a dreamy reminiscence than a document of a real place. Like many works in Avenue 9 Gallery’s current exhibition, Chico Icons, Mitchell’s piece gives us a picture of an integral community landmark that appears in danger of only existing as a fading memory, ever harder to hold onto.

This year’s Chico Icons exhibit is the ninth showing in an annual series at Avenue 9 Gallery. Taking “Endangered Icons” as its theme, the show gives glimpses into the many ways in which to engage with life in Chico, and the need for efforts toward preservation of its local histories and public monuments. Many local artists, working in an array of mediums, have contributed, each honing in on different aspects of structures and places that could be in need of closer communal attention and support.

In some works artists provide visual meditations on fragmented portions of iconic Chico spots, offering fresh impressions of dusty haunts so familiar as to seem beyond notice. To see “Washington and the Esplanade (Veterans Memorial Hall)” through the eyes of watercolorist Cynthia Sexton is to notice the richness of the building’s brick-red accents setting off against the warm, soft-yellow coloring of its as yet still-standing pillars. Peter Hogue’s wistful, comic photographs offer up images that suggest tiny pieces of much larger possible narrative arcs. A close-up of a mysterious corner of the city seems to say, “If only you were there” at this special “Auto Rest on Broadway” (as the title of the photo calls it) one long-ago hot eve (or maybe, if only we could somehow experience new, electric encounters in such special local spots in great, future, halcyon days).

Twilight and the moon are frequently recurring motifs, as in Linda Smith’s “Red Sky over Bidwell’ and Richard Baldy’s “Moon over post office.” As such, the tone of the show is equal parts romantic reverence for the seasonal beauties of the local natural and urban landscapes, and elegiac lament for the aspects of all that could easily vanish. The Renaissance-inspired architecture of the downtown post office, the much beloved Bidwell Mansion, the terrain of Bidwell Park and land along the Sacramento River are all neglected to varying degrees, through lack of funding, maintenance and general care. Here, each place is given time and careful, painterly attention, either with intimate detail or greater abstraction, but always with a tendency to translate the local with tenderness and devotion.

This Chico Icons show takes on a quiet urgency, and not just in giving over its attention to what is at stake for the community in regard to its endangered monuments and special lands. The apparent immediacy is also in its affirming belief that one of art’s continued functions in a community is giving form and sensibility to a particular place. Much like David Hockney’s paintings give unique color and shape to visions of L.A. life, and Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud provide complex insights into the workings of Bay Area social life and landscape, these works on view at Avenue 9 contribute to the historical present of life in the Sacramento Valley, and it is up to the viewers whether these are pictures of what is inevitably fleeting, or what we will, together, continue to preserve.