Thousands of pounds of ocean-born garbage, collected on a local beach, now transformed into colorful photographic collages. Surreal paintings constructed out of delicate strands of algae. Elaborate printings made using fish and other undersea inhabitants. Detailed ceramic sculptures depicting three-dimensional cross-sections of an actual coral reef. Such oceanic artistry — tinged with scientific curiosity and meticulous research — is but a few examples of what will greet visitors to Petaluma Arts Center’s new exhibit, “Tidal Response: Coastal Marine Environments from Above and Below.”
If all of this sounds like a show one might more likely encounter at the Natural History Museum or at the Monterey Aquarium, that’s a very good thing. And if it sounds a bit too “artsy” for such science-oriented institutions, well, that’s good too. It is, in fact, exactly what curator Carin Jacobs is hoping for.
“I haven’t seen a lot of shows that link art and science,” notes Jacobs, Arts Center Board-member and Director of the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute at Sonoma State University. “I’ve always been interested in interdisciplinary approaches, so I proposed this idea to the rest of the board. Originally, I was interested in finding out whether there are any nuanced differences between artists who become scientists and scientists who become artists, or who allow science to influence their art.”
A total of seven scientist-artists are included in the show, themes of which will be underscored by a number of on-site events over the nine-week course of the exhibit (See sidebar).
Peter Connors makes pressings using algae, a vital habitat and food source for many marine animals. The prints, employing a method used by scientists and collectors to study and preserve algae specimens, effectively reveal something most people never notice: algae is actually quite beautiful. There are many types of algae, in an array of colors and branching shapes, some spiky and some bubbly and pod-like.
“Peter’s pressing are gorgeous,” says Jacobs. “They look like abstract Rorschach tests.”
Another type of aquatic printmaking that will be on display — though of a more ichthyological bent — are the Japanese fish paintings of Chris Dewees.
“It’s not a practice people are familiar with in the states,” Jacobs says. “But it’s a very interesting fusion of science and art, taking previously living sea organisms and directly using them as part of the artistic process.”
Building on the notion of art made from things pulled out of the ocean, Richard and Judith Selby Lang will be exhibiting some of the astonishing photo collages they’ve created using plastic items and other ocean-carried human-made debris collected on the beach.
“They focus on one particular square-mile of sand out oat Kehoe Beach, at Pt. Reyes,” explains Jacobs. “They’ve been doing this for a while. They collect and sort-of-curate the garbage they find on the beach. They assemble the pieces into surprisingly interesting ‘collages,’ and photograph them. It’s a fascinating overlap of ecological statement and aesthetic impulse, making something attractive, and strangely appealing, out of something that is actually hurting our oceans.”
Other contributors to the show are Julia Edith Rigby, Holly Sumner, and Courtney Mattison. The latter is a ceramicist whose delicate hand-sculpted creations are realistically detailed replicas of ocean life. A self-proclaimed “ocean advocate,” Mattison intentionally creates work that will inspire the people who make ocean policy to protect recognize the fragile nature of the seas.
WHAT IS IT? Subtitled, “Coastal Marine Environments from Above and Below,” this new multi-discipline art show blends art and science in a unique look at the oceans and ocean life.
WHERE? The Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville St.
WHEN? August 19-October 21. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Opening night reception on Saturday, August 19, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
ADMISSION? $5 (general) and $4 (seniors, students, military, and teachers).
3D MODELING DEMONSTRATION OF UNDERSEA CORAL SPECIMENS (Thursday, August 31, 7 p.m. - 8 p.m.) A talk-demonstration by Erika Woolsey, of The Hydrous, a non-profit collective of artists, scientists, teachers, writers and filmmakers devoted to open access of the oceans, Woolsey will be describing her work and what 3D modeling tells us about world’s endangered coral reefs. $5 general.
CONSTRUCTIVE COLLISIONS: ART, SCINECE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT (Tuesday, September 12, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.) A panel of scholars and creators from the worlds of art and science will discuss ways that the artistic process and the scientific method inform one another. Moderated by Carin Jacobs, the panel will include research ecologist Peter Connors, art and media professor Jennifer Parker, and Hydrous co-founder Erika Woolsey. $15-$18.
THE ART OF JAPANESE FISH PRINTING (Tuesday, September 12) Tidal Response artist Chris Dewees demonstrates Gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish painting. Dewees has practiced the art for over 50 years, and will demonstrate and talk about his new book (A Life Among Fishes). Free with museum admission.