Since the beginning of the pandemic-related shut downs, viewing visual art has been mostly limited to online offerings by major museums. But the Midpeninsula has some art galleries that are not only featuring virtual exhibits but slowly beginning to open in a physical space as well, such as Pamela Walsh Gallery in downtown Palo Alto.
A commercial art gallery with the designation of a retail space, Walsh's gallery reopened last month with a group show entitled "Seeking Nature" as well as a virtual exhibition featuring the works of the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali.
Walsh, who is an art adviser as well as a gallery owner, is thankful that she was able to open her doors again.
"I am fortunate that my business provides a low-risk environment, so I have not had to make radical adjustments. Although I won't be hosting any gatherings in the near future, people can visit the gallery safely and enjoy the art while maintaining a safe distance," she said.
For her first show after reopening, Walsh decided to look to nature and invited six artists to participate with works focused on that central theme. Two of the artists, Craig Waddell and Don Scott MacDonald, are part of her gallery roster. The remaining four — Danielle Eubank, Zoya Frolova, Pierre Marie Brisson and Fernando Reyes — were familiar to her as a result of networking with other galleries and art fairs. "I wanted to curate a world-class exhibition featuring artists from many places who each feel a deep connection to the earth. The subject matter is fairly similar (light, water, land, plants) but the artists' expressions of them are all unique," she explained.
With its high ceilings and abundant natural lighting, the Ramona Street gallery space is perfect for art of all sizes and media, and many pieces in this show are quite large. Waddell's thickly painted, abundantly floral still lifes seem to glow in this setting. His impasto approach to applying paint seems almost sculptural, even as it adheres to canvas. Although flowers are Waddell's main subject matter, Walsh has also included a rare seascape by the Australian artist. "I can hear your whispers from across the sea" is a dramatic evocation of water meeting land, thanks to the thick, almost gestural application of paint and the cool palette. Water is also the subject matter of Frolova, who also happens to be a competitive swimmer. In "Following Light," the artist has depicted an ocean that seems to end at the side of the canvas, much like an infinity pool. A tiny origami boat floats along enigmatically under the eyes of a hazy sun. It's mysterious and yet, somehow, calming.
Water is also the theme for Eubank, who undertook a project to paint every ocean on Earth in order to raise awareness about climate change. It took 20 years and was completed in 2019 after a visit to Antarctica. Walsh explained that the artist "claims every ocean is different." In "Arctic VI," roiling waves are painted in cool shades of green and blue, against a white background. Compare it with "Phoenician Reflection II," with its warm hues of gold and brown and one can, physically, feel the temperature change.
"Putting together a show is a multi-faceted process of relationship-building, logistics management and curation," Walsh said. "It is one thing to pick great artists and art but another to put all of it in a gallery and create a dialogue that allows each work to sing."
Walsh has managed to do just that, combining disparate artists who work in wildly different styles — somehow, it all works well aesthetically. Consider, for example, both the sinewy realism of Reyes's trees as they reach for the sky, as well as the cool minimalism of MacDonald's landscapes. Finally, for those who appreciate the creatures of land and sea, Brisson's lovely batik-like evocations of birds and fish might be just the ticket. These mixed-media works will find you looking closely to ascertain just how the artist achieved such a feeling of tactility.
For those who are not ready to venture out yet, Walsh has organized a virtual exhibition of works by an art world icon, Salvador Dali. The title "Surreal Art for Surreal Times" says it all — and seems most appropriate in the current situation. Walsh explained that the prints belong to a collection owned by a dear friend, Michael Schwartz, who owns Galerie Michael in Beverly Hills. She explained, "The word 'surrealist' — or 'beyond reality' — was coined by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire at the beginning of the 20th century. The confluence of the physical world and the dream world was starting to feel like our new reality."
The lithographs and engravings in the exhibition convey the well-known dream (or nightmare) tropes: skulls, anthropomorphic figures and distorted faces. Be sure to take the short audio tour, written and narrated by Walsh, who has a familiarity with Dali that only many years in the art world could achieve. Walsh said that she plans to continue virtual programming, with future exhibitions of work by Picasso and Rembrandt.
Walsh reports that, although foot traffic in Palo Alto has been sparse, the response to an open gallery has been fantastic.
"There is no replacement for seeing art in person; there is an energy exchange that occurs when you are face to face with a work of art that is powerful and transformative," she said. "Art helps us to connect to our human experience, and my gallery provides a space for that."
More information is available at pamelawalshgallery.com.