The art of abundance
Palo Alto exhibit explores questions of greed and plenty
Is "plenty" a positive or negative word? Does it refer to the joy of having just enough, or does it warn of excess? A visitor might answer these questions differently with each step around the main gallery at Palo Alto's Fibre Arts Design Studio.
The artists showing work in the current "Plenty" exhibition explore questions of abundance and greed in quilts and watercolor, in photography and wire mesh and pencil. Even in screws and plywood.
Many pieces strike cautionary notes. Mountain View artist Jacqueline Ernst's watercolor "Fox and Bottle Tree" is cheerily colorful but based on a Paraguay legend with an unhappy ending. The tale has it that a thoughtless fox stole the key to a bottle tree that held all the water and fish in the world; in Ernst's painting, the dismayed fox is about to be flooded.
In the center of the gallery, Menlo Park artist Ceevah Sobel has created a meticulously arranged tower of paper with a steel rod in the middle. Titled "Alms Column," the piece is almost pretty until you realize it's built from junk mail — "all the direct-mail envelopes that she got for three years," says Dan Caple, marketing and design manager at the gallery.
Still, the exhibition is far from depressing. "Technology & the Tyke," Suhita Shirodkar's watercolor-and-ink sketch of a boy fiddling with a smartphone, is playful, and Shelley Kommers' collage "Look, the Sky is Full of Love" pictures plenty as a child reaching toward a sky rich with blue hearts.
Photographer Steven Brock, too, has contributed photos that are full of joy. Taken in 1987 when the San Franciscan lived in a mountain village in Peru, they include images of two women beaming over ice-cream cones. Their clothes and hats are simple, but the mountains in the background are lovely and so are the smiles.
Meanwhile, Ryan Carrington has created a panel of posh Burberry plaid — fashioned from screws arranged in plywood. A pricey pattern in the most blue-collar medium.
This is the kind of mix that Caple, general manager Shira Adriance and the others at Fibre Arts Design strive for in the gallery's group and solo exhibitions. Some pieces are edgy, while others are more accessible, art you could imagine hanging on your wall. The gallery also seeks out both new and established artists.
"Art is hard. You have to pick things that will sell," Caple says. But also, he adds, pieces that have something to say. "If you just had landscapes — you can find that at Pier 1."
Caple and his cohorts plan to continue that mix when the space undergoes a major change next month. CEO and founder Wo Schiffman, who along with Adriance and Janea Ponce has also offered design services at Fibre Arts, is retiring to concentrate on her own art. She has sold the business to Caple and his business partner, David Lucas, who plan to make a few upgrades to the gallery and then reopen the space in January as New Coast Studios.
Most of Fibre Arts' staff will remain, said Adriance, who is moving to Montreal but will still do some projects remotely.
Caple, a designer and artist from Chicago, sounds excited about New Coast Studios. He says the new venture will continue to curate shows and sell art from its walls and shop, but also have a new focus on community events, with a "non-pretentious atmosphere."
One event planned for the spring is "Doodle Fest," in which the public will help create an enormous collaborative doodle with markers on paper. The two-day event will happen in the gallery's back lot, and several regular gallery artists will be taking part. "We want to encourage creativity," Caple says.
Meanwhile, "Plenty" is up for viewing until the artwork comes down on Dec. 20 for the holidays. The next group show, "Transformation," is scheduled to open Jan. 31.
In the gallery, Caple wanders over to Palo Alto artist Elizabeth Cody's pencil drawing "Alone." It's sort of the anti-"plenty," with a minimalist depiction of a woman with her back to the viewer, her head down.
In contrast, Sharon Beals' photo "Even Lake Michigan" is a starburst of color and hectic plastic, with barrettes, combs, lighters and torn balloons. Plentiful, yes, but probably too much so: It's a photo of the garbage that she found by the lake and carefully arranged.
Adriance, who curated the show, is drawn to "Naso Turco," a mixed-media work by Menlo Park artist Maria Kazanskaya. It depicts a close-up woman, repelling and compelling, with her hairline pulled back severely and her nose drawn into a sort of elephant's trunk, heavy with golden coins. Gaudy wallpaper makes a pattern on her neck. It all feels like plastic surgery gone bad — like the face of "plenty," as Adriance notes, and not in a good way.
"This woman has spent so much money on her face, and it doesn't make her beautiful," Adriance says.
What: "Plenty," a group exhibition on the themes of consumption and excess
Where: Fibre Arts Design Studio gallery, 935 Industrial Ave., Palo Alto
When: The exhibit comes down Dec. 20. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.
Cost: Admission is free.
Info: Go to fibreartsdesign.com or call 650-485-2121.