Artist Mariana Barnes finds that feeling in aboriginal art in Australia, ocean waves, Roman mosaics. In San Francisco, she photographs spiral designs in iron gates. When she paints in patterns, it feels like meditation.
Barnes, a physicist fond of fractals, works at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto three days a week. The other days are devoted to her art in two distinctive styles: mosaic-like works and quilt-like works, chiefly acrylic on canvas. The paintings are rich with color and motion, the mosaic-like works shimmering with metallic paint that changes at different angles.
A yoga studio, where you leave your shoes and the world outside, makes a fitting venue for an exhibition of Barnes' paintings. Several of the mosaic patterns are currently up at the Avalon Art & Yoga Center on California Avenue in Palo Alto, in a front room, inside the yoga studio and in a back hall.
When the studio has a break between classes, Barnes visits her paintings, standing in socks on the hardwood floor. Most of the time, she says, creating the detailed patterns is an intuitive process, not shaped by a plan or training; she's had only a few art classes and likes it that way. For some reason, she often starts with blue.
"I start a line and make a rectangle, and move around," she says. The rectangles create paths like brick roads that she follows to see where they go; curves and swirls and angles evolve. "I am free," she says. "I don't like rules in my art."
Some of the paintings on exhibit have themes of air, fire, earth and water. "Wind" and "Whirlpool" are dominated by cool blues; on the other side of a wall, "Blaze" is all golden-oranges and reds. In the hall, the smaller wood-framed works "Hawaiian Sunset," "Ocean Sunset" and "The Tempest Line" have subtle earth tones.
Barnes began painting in this style about five years ago, after a visit to her sister in Australia when she was introduced to the repeating lines and patterns of aboriginal art. She also became taken with Egyptian and Minoan art, and the color and light of Impressionist painters. Barnes had always painted and drawn, but these new explorations were about trying "to find something that's distinct and my own."
A native of Argentina and a married mother of two, Barnes worked full-time in science for a while. As her interest in painting grew, she took a break from science, then missed it and finally decided about two years ago to work part-time at Space Systems/Loral and part-time as an artist. It's a balance she seems pleased with.
"I do my art because it makes me happy," she says. "I want other people to feel the same when they see it."
While the soft-spoken Barnes says that promoting her art doesn't come naturally to her, she knows the business of art — creating portfolios, marketing her paintings to galleries — is necessary to get the work out there. One thing that really helped her was taking a class at the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto last year on the business of art, she said.
Since then, Barnes' art career has continued to grow, including solo shows at the Pacific Art League, in San Jose and at Stanford University. She's represented by the KALEID Gallery in San Jose, and she's also been featured on the Talk Art television show by artist Susan Kraft, who owned the former ART21 Gallery in Palo Alto. The program was shown on local public-access TV in Palo Alto and Mountain View, and in New York.
This fall, Barnes also has a solo show at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in Mountain View. She's exhibiting her quilt-like works, big bold patterns with splashy color. Each section of the main pattern has a smaller design inside: tiny cross-hatching, triangles inside triangles, jellyfish and bubbles and loop-de-loops.
Looking closely at these paintings is like getting a peek under a microscope. That's apropos, because this artist and scientist says she couldn't have one discipline without the other.
"Being an artist makes me a better scientist and vice versa," she wrote in an artist's statement. "Each pursuit feeds the other — art keeps me sane; science keeps me grounded."
What: "Mosaic Movement," an exhibit of paintings by Mariana Barnes
Where: Avalon Art & Yoga Center, 370 California Ave., Palo Alto
When: Through Jan. 10. The center is open every day, but paintings in the studio may not be seen during yoga classes; a schedule is at http://www.avalonyoga.com .
Info: Go to http://www.fineartbymariana.com . Barnes is also showing paintings through the end of November at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 2440 W. El Camino Real, Suite 300, Mountain View. An escort may be required in the office building; call 650-450-5400.
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