A canvas draped with chiffon hangs next to a painting of a freeway overpass. Nearby, a drip-art abstract calls to mind Jackson Pollock — not the realistic lily keeping it company.
But a patient observer may be rewarded. There are surprising parallels in this Stanford Art Spaces exhibit, which contains Annie Armstrong's giant paintings of seashells and flowers; Robert Schimke's abstracts and mixed-media works; and Jill Jeannides' urban oil paintings.
On one wall, Schimke's "new genetics," a painting of energetic blobs and swirls, hangs beside Armstrong's lush "Calla Lilies." The styles may be completely different, but the artists used similar shades of tomato-y reds and oranges.
Elsewhere in the exhibit, Jeannides' freeway painting "Interchange" could be a gritty image. Instead, the roads soar with grace. Their arcs are mirrored in the gentle curves of Schimke's "purity," a textured work all in white. Schimke has layered folds of chiffon over canvas and frozen them into place with acrylic gesso. Somehow, his work and Jeannides' painting are peers, sharing a meditative feel.
Jeannides echoed this sentiment at the exhibit's opening reception last week, saying her painting can also represent people choosing new life directions.
"I was playing with the ideas of 'interchange' and 'inner change,'" she said.
Overall, the show is a study in contrasts coming together, and curator Marilyn Grossman seems to have assembled it with a playful hand.
The exhibit area itself is part of the tapestry. Rather than hanging in a gallery, Stanford Art Spaces works are displayed throughout the university's Center for Integrated Systems, spread out over floors, halls and corridors. A painting can pop up in an unexpected corner or break room. It's a way of bringing art to people who might not visit a gallery or museum, Grossman says.
A focal point is the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility's cleanroom on the ground floor. As researchers work behind thick windows, wearing bunnysuits and lab glasses, exhibit visitors gaze at the paintings hung nearby. Armstrong's "Summer's Lush" echoes the yellow-tinted glass of the windows; its flower's huge petals are painted in pale lemon and ivory.
Three researchers put their heads together in front of a computer, as absorbed as any art critic. It's an intent attitude reflected in Armstrong's artist's statement:
"Taking the smallest things — a seashell only — and transforming it to a scale of 6 feet by 6 feet forces one to confront the overpowering beauty of its natural form. ... We need to take the time to really look at the simple things that surround us every day to understand the powerful impact of nature on our lives."
Last Friday evening, the reception attracted a crowd of people who meandered throughout the building seeking art. Schimke, a Palo Alto resident and retired Stanford University professor, drew many friends and fans. Over and over, he reached up from his wheelchair for a handshake.
While riding his bicycle 12 years ago on Sand Hill Road, Schimke was struck by a car; he ended up paralyzed and was able to regain only partial use of his hands and arms. He turned to art, and has created hundreds of paintings and three-dimensional works.
"Anxiety," which has canvases stacked in 3-D patterns, marches along one exhibit wall. The series is marked by staring masks, with everything painted in tense black-and-white patterns. It can summon up sensations of anger, or of being trapped.
Schimke also enjoys beading and making necklaces. But it's clear from the paint dots speckling his shoes that drip art retains an appeal.
Looking down at his shoes at the reception, he observes, "They look like my studio."
Like Pollock, Schimke uses house paints for his drip art; he says acrylics and oils don't have the right consistency. "My favorite source of paint is Home Depot."
He also refers to the paintings as "flow" works, pointing out the way the paint flows toward the middle of the canvas — when you lay a big canvas down, it sags in the center and contributes symmetry.
Although Schimke likes the smell of oil paint, he says his wife frowns on using it in the house.
"My problem with oils is when they get on me," he says to Jeannides.
"They travel," she commiserates.
"Onto my wife's clothes," he says.
For her part, Jeannides says she enjoys the way the exhibit sets off her paintings against the other artwork.
"The other artists address micro systems," she says, admiring Schimke's drip art as "atomic," like worlds seen under a microscope. "My work is like the gravity of life, how I navigate through huge systems."
That navigation is sometimes hectic, unsurprising for a Chicago native who now lives in L.A. Jeannides enjoys capturing the speed of modern life in such paintings such as "The British Fleet at Heathrow" and "Cahuenga Pass, Los Angeles."
While some artists paint from photographs, Jeannides often works from video, not wanting to miss an instant.
But in an exhibit full of contrasts, even her work can be calm. "Times Square" is one of the most peaceful of her paintings; the city is heavy with winter and even the taxis seem unhurried. It recalls a visit she made to New York during a March blizzard.
"There were no snow plows for two days," she says. "It was out of the ordinary — things had to slow down."
What: An exhibit of paintings by Annie Armstrong and Jill Jeannides, and paintings and mixed-media works by Robert Schimke
Where: Stanford Art Spaces at the Center for Integrated Systems, 420 Via Palou, Stanford University
When: Through Feb. 7, open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (The exhibit will be closed Dec. 24 through Jan. 2 or 3.)
Info: Go to cis.stanford.edu/~marigros or call 650-725-3622.