Where the art grows

The Chico Art Center presents another cool marathon weekend of local art visitation at the annual Open Studios Tour

HOT OFF THE PRESS Ruth Ormerod next to the etching press she’ll demonstrate during the Open Studios Tour

HOT OFF THE PRESS Ruth Ormerod next to the etching press she’ll demonstrate during the Open Studios Tour

Photo By Tom Angel

“Art, it’s in our Nature.” That’s the slogan that local artists Gregg Payne and Dylan Tellesen presented to the Chico Chamber of Commerce on the heels of the news that Chico was to be included in a guide to the Top 100 Small Art Towns in America. The city of Chico has backed a campaign to take advantage of the newfound distinction by promoting tourism to this area as an arts destination, and the chamber, which is spearheading the campaign, chose the “in our Nature” slogan for the design of its marketing campaign.

This weekend nearly 100 artists from Chico, Oroville and Paradise are showing their true nature while displaying their visual pieces in their natural habitats, and the genesis of the marketing campaign’s slogan couldn’t be more obvious. More than half of the works in the $10 guide that funds much of the endeavor show representations of the natural world or are constructed from materials occurring naturally.

I got to see many of these works and others this past weekend by attending the reception/preview at the Chico Art Center with the goal of finding an artist to visit ahead of time for this preview, and on this pleasant evening the Chico art community’s attractiveness was radiant. This isn’t a comment on any hotties or studs that may have been crammed into the rail-side studios, but instead is an observation of what the attraction to Chico is for many artists: the willingness to gather together for a common purpose and the willingness to party! The supportive spirit of the elbow-to-elbow congregation was strong, as artists and art fans and family members interacted with one another as much as with the art in front of them.

And the best is yet to come. The studio tour this weekend pulls the curtain back on the work that goes into the works, taking you from the party to the more intimate interaction with the artists in their spaces. Not to mention the fact there is a staggering sum total of pieces on view all at the same time.

At the preview, the first piece to catch my eye was the sumptuous and expressive watercolor by Peter Jodaitis (No. 74 on the tour for those who are following along) from his new Women and Children series that just finished a showing at the Humanities Gallery at Chico State. Also impressive was an acrylic Asian piece by Chunhong Chang (No. 59). Depicting a man wrestling with a huge fish and a flower painted on a wood box, the earthy browns and golds had been distressed till cracked and old looking, and in the center of the box, painted inside at the back (or the heart) of it, were bright persimmons in still life in beautiful contrast.

But the work I was most drawn to was a smaller semi-Impressionistic looking piece depicting a bushy green orange tree entitled “Spirit of the Orange Tree” by Ruth Ormerod (No. 49). It had a striking texture that was thatched-looking and denser in the center and, in Ormerod’s words, gets plain “wiggly” as you move out into the sky.

“That’s watercolor on Gessoed paper … thick white acrylic that covers the paper,” explained a soft-spoken Ormerod, “It kind of resists it [the water color]. I kind of got to like that, and I’ve just kept doing it.”

I realized I’d seen her works before at a showing at the Upper Crust Bakery. That show featured scenes of homes in her neighborhood in the Avenues, as well as interesting mixed-media drawings using pastels with pencil and charcoal to create almost expressionistic scenes of nature like the one in the tiny picture at the top of the cover of this issue of the paper.

“It’s interesting to find what people are like and which pictures they like,” said Ormond in anticipation of the upcoming tour, “This will be the third year [for me].”

This tour is just one example of what Chico has to offer as an arts community, and from the cool prints of Greg Boyd in Paradise to the funky furniture designs of Jeb Sisk at the Drive-By Gallery, the example is multiplied by each individual opening up his or her studio and is made strong by the fact that they’re all doing it at the same time.