Forty-five years ago the Palo Alto Art Center opened its doors with the simple goal of offering visitors a place where art could be seen and made. The inaugural exhibition, "Roots," featured art from local collections; the second exhibition was devoted to the very broad theme of color. In celebration of this anniversary, the center has returned to this theme with a show including 20 artists who, according to the exhibition press release, "share an interest in the power of color, and employ strategic choices about the use of color in their works." The exhibition, "Spectral Hues: artists + color," features colorful art in a variety of media and will be on view until April 9.
Guest curator Sharon Bliss explained that she worked with the center's exhibition team to determine a list of possible artists, most of whom are based in California.
"From there I did a series of studio and gallery visits, more than 30, and we started to narrow down the list," she said.
As one might expect from the theme, the exhibition is a visual knockout, with bright and bold hues of every color in the rainbow. But Bliss was also looking for more subtle, intrinsic qualities in the art she chose. How and why are we so influenced by color? We get some insights as to how the individual artists feel about the subject, thanks to quotes found on the wall labels. For example, in Richard Mayhew's oil on canvas, "Spring Transition," he describes how he is not after a literal depiction of a landscape so much as "an emotional encounter with nature."
Many of the pieces are reminiscent of the work of abstract-expressionist artists and their approach to the exploration of color. Ruth Pastine's "Possession (Red Green)" has a distinctly Rothko feeling in the intensity of color gradations. In the painting, the deep red seems to pulsate and glow as the eye moves from the darker borders to the blood-red center. Anne Appleby's "Cottonwood" could be akin to Josef Albers' many homages to the square, and Menlo Park painter Mitchell Johnson's "Piaggio" reminds us that Hans Hofmann's theory about the "push-pull" of color (in which color can be used to achieve depth) still applies.
Any time one deals with color, the science of optics comes into play. What happens when colors are placed next to one another? Why are there so many illusions created via color?
"Mel Prest's work 'Jade Emerald' is a great example of a piece that successfully sits at the intersection of art, science, optics and life," Bliss said. "From a distance this large painting appears to be a solid color field. Closer viewing reveals that it is actually made up of green and blue stripes, in a V converging at the painting's center. The eye is completed fooled."
Another example of art that plays havoc with the retinas is Stephen Giannetti's "Rorschach for Rothko," an acrylic-on-linen painting that consists of thousands of same-sized circles. The artist refers to the piece as "magnificent pointillism," in which the eye is bombarded by the colored circles, which seem to ebb, flow and create a dizzying effect.
Some of the artists chose to stick with the basics, exploring the simple beauty of the primary and secondary colors. The color wheel is a time-honored teaching tool, but in the hands of Tamara Seal it becomes a tangible, three-dimensional sculpture. Using a plywood circular form, the artist has created the familiar wheel using vibrantly colored sand. The piece, "Color Wheel," lies on the floor, surrounded by a rope barrier (a good idea because the impulse to reach out and touch it is hard to resist).
Amy Ellingson uses both traditional and high-tech materials in her study of color fundamentals. In "Variation: Carta I-VI," lozenge-shaped oil-on-linen wall panels reflect the pure, intense range of the primary (red, yellow, blue) and secondary (purple, green, orange) colors. Directly below this group, a low display stand holds "Variation: Artifacts," a jumble of multi-colored shards. The artist explained that she used computer design software that allowed her to transfer color onto 3-D molds using encaustic, a material comprised of pigment and beeswax.
Color: It is one of the basic elements of art and a never-ending source of inspiration for artists, no matter what medium they employ. "Spectral Hues" reaffirms that contemporary artists are still finding unique and inventive ways to explore its limitless possibilities.
What: "Spectral Hues: artists + color"
Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto
When: Through April 9, Tuesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursdays open until 9 p.m.); Sundays 1-5 p.m.
Info: Go to Palo Alto Art Center