Artists among us

Publication Date: Friday Apr 28, 2000

Artists among us

Silicon Valley Open Studios invites the community to view artists in their workplace

by Robyn Israel

Silicon Valley is recognized as the land of the high-tech worker, venture capitalist and business entrepreneur. Typically, if not fairly, artists are not readily counted among the area's gainfully employed.

Michael Rosenthal and other local artists are ready to change perceptions. Over the next two weekends, they'll welcome visitors into their workshops as part of Silicon Valley Open Studios, a valley-wide event designed to bring together the community and the artists who work in their cities.

Rosenthal recently gave up a handsome six-figure salary to pursue his creative passion full time. Formerly a senior manager and associate vice provost at Stanford University, he has transformed himself from executive to artist.

"I wanted to say something and do something in my life," Rosenthal said of his decision to become a full-time painter. "Building a billion dollars' worth of buildings over my career at Stanford was not enough."

An annual self-guided tour, Silicon Valley Open Studios (originally called Open Studios of South Bay Artists) features artists in Santa Clara, San Benito and San Mateo counties. Visitors to the studios find diverse works, ranging from two-dimensional digital art and classical oil paintings to three-dimensional marble sculpture.

The artists themselves are an eclectic group, including students, teachers, amateurs and professionals--both emerging and mature--among others. Because the works shown in the event are not juried or judged by peer artists, the visitor ultimately becomes the judge.

Rosenthal, who has participated in Open Studios for the last five years, delights in having the public come and talk about his work.

"A really good exchange can take place between the artists and the pedestrians who come through," said Rosenthal, whose studio is at the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto.

Having recently visited galleries in New York City and Santa Fe, N.M., Rosenthal said his art is unlike any other work he's seen.

"I didn't see anyone who paints like I do," Rosenthal said. "That's either really good or bad."

What sets his paintings apart, Rosenthal said, are their large size, flat images and bright colors, as well as that they are neither abstract nor realistic. His works are figurative, but not representational, allowing for a measure of interpretation.

"It's really accessible and delightful to look at when you see it, but also intellectually challenging," he said. "You can enjoy them on two different levels."

What local artists Lori Lejeune and Linda Tapscott enjoy is digital art, in which computer programs are used to create works. According to Lejeune, however, it is a new and misunderstood art form that the art world still resists.

"It's like when photography came out on the market," Lejeune said. "(People thought) this isn't being touched by an artist's hand; therefore it's not real art. But today, photography is an undisputed art form."

Lejeune, who first participated in Open Studios last year, is confident that digital art will eventually gain full acceptance.

And in an effort to expose the public to digital art, Lejeune and Tapscott will use a digital camera to photograph visitors to their Alma Street studio and then post the pictures on their Web sites ( and

"We see the computer and the Internet as extensions of our artistic palette," Tapscott said. "They are powerful, flexible tools that inspire creativity."

Tapscott works from her photographs of landscapes, digitally manipulating them into surrealistic works that touch upon humanity's spiritual connection with the natural world. Lejeune also creates surrealistic images, working with the kind of 3-D software used to make the animated film "Toy Story." Her art creates the illusion that one can step right into the picture.

Lejeune has also worked with pastels, but she finds digital art a much better fit.

"Digital art to me is a natural marriage of my life as a computer scientist with my interest in art," Lejeune said.

A group of 79 artists initiated the Open Studios tours in San Jose in 1986. In its first year, the event included 26 studios and ran just one weekend. This year, 334 artists will be participating at 226 tour sites over two weekends.

With the growth of Open Studios, an effort was made last year to transform it from a loosely formed artists' group to a nonprofit organization. That goal was achieved, and the event is now a program of Silicon Valley Visual Arts.

Jean Kluga, a participating artist in Los Altos, will display at her studio a painting she created for the upcoming U.S. Open golf tournament at Pebble Beach. The painting ultimately was developed into a tapestry blanket throw, which will be on sale at Pebble Beach beginning next week. The work depicts the course's 18th hole, along with the tree-lined fairway and spectators in the grandstand.

"It's my mental image of the excitement of the U.S. Open," Kluga said.

Kluga, who works in an impressionistic-realism style, has painted for over 30 years, during which a part-time hobby has become a full-time occupation. While her foray into golf art reflects her husband's avid interest in golf, her works otherwise are an eclectic overview of her life and travels.

"I paint where my heart leads me," Kluga said.1 n

Silicon Valley Open Studios will take place in Palo Alto and other cities on April 29-30 and May 6-7, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Information about the artists and their media can be found in the annual Open Studios catalog ($15), which is available at the following Palo Alto locations: Accent Arts, 392 California Ave.; Pacific Art League, 668 Ramona St.; Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road; Printers Inc., 310 California Ave.; and University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Ave. For more information call (650) 941-5337. 

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