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Eclectic local artists come out from under the woodwork

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A call was put out in the spring of 2016 to pretty much everyone involved in the art world in Sonoma County. The call basically asked the question, “Who is doing art in the county who really, really needs to be seen, but is yet ‘undiscovered’?”

This question has been asked and answered every two years since 2006 in preparation for the, “Discovered: Emerging Artists from Sonoma County,” exhibition. This year’s show is hosted by the Petaluma Arts Center and runs from Jan. 24-March 18 with the opening reception on Jan. 21 from 5–7 p.m.

The process of finding artists for Discovered is a careful one. Originally, 71 artists were recommended, 48 were asked to submit applications and 12 received studio visits by the program’s jurors: Kate Eilertsen, lead curator, Michael Schwager from Sonoma State University and Jessica Martin, a visual artist.

Out of those 12, five committed and passionate artists were chosen. They are an eclectic group: Jenny Harp of Santa Rosa creates drawings and prints that explore the idea of permanence in the digital age. Dayana Leon, also from Santa Rosa, is a painter who illuminates the prison of standards of beauty for women. Catherine Sieck of Occidental creates cut paper tableaux, which asks viewers to think about their relationship with the earth.

From Sonoma, Kala Stein juxtaposes the precision of geometric patterns with ceramics made by hand. Last, but not least, Jaynee Watson from Petaluma translates emotions and experiences into physical objects. Each of these winners receives a $2,000 stipend.

“I’ve always been so amazed with the great diversity of subject matter,” said Kate Eilertsen, former director of the Sonoma Valley Museum who also was juror and curator in the previous two shows.

“It’s not just about painting a beautiful vineyard sunset here in Sonoma County. It is committed artists grappling with today’s challenges. In talking with the artists as we traveled around the county, almost all of them talked about loving to work here because of the escape from the urban grit and the beauty surrounding them. Even if their work reflects a concern about the world today, as Dayana Leon and Jaynee Watson does, their love of the place comes through.”

Originally from Manteca in the Central Valley, Watson, now a Petaluma artist, attended school at Sonoma State University before deciding to stay after she graduated in 2007. She works full time in a screen printing shop in Sebastopol. Nighttime and weekends is when she makes her art.

“It is something that I have to do because I can’t help it,” Watson said. “It feels natural for me to do every day. I am interested in people’s ability to emotionally react to things in their environment. So, even if it is a small drawing, I put it down in my sketch book. My work is making emotional physical, to transform my reactions to physical objects. But it has a humanistic quality. It is the transformation of emotion to a physical being.”

Watson and the other artist’s artistic process and the pieces they makes are part of what Kim Chigi, exhibition manager at the Petaluma Arts Center, said is what’s special about the show.

“The most exciting thing about this exhibition is the way in which the artists explore and create their work in such diverse and engaging ways,” she said. “Each of their practices are extremely varied, yet provide an inspiring level of commitment to each of their disciplines. Works ranging from gender politics, nature and the consequences of technology all culminate into intuitive understandings that are uniquely their own.”

Commitment is a word that comes up consistently regarding these and other Discovered artists.

“I think that is what distinguishes the Discovered artists from others I see around us everyday,” said Eilertsen. “All of them over the last six years have shown a profound commitment to living the life of an artist. It truly is what distinguishes great artists, from artists. You feel it immediately when you walk into their studios. Often visual artists are visual artists because they aren’t great at talking about it. This is why we insist on visiting them in their studio. The work speaks for itself, it doesn’t need words.”

Watson hopes that her work will challenge the viewers to think about what they consider art to be, and to have a different experience of art than what they have had before.

“I am hoping to evoke emotion,” she said. “I would like each person who stands in front of my work to have their own personal experience with it.”

Watson is creating a new installation specifically for Discovered.

“I think this show is such a gift to emerging artists in Sonoma County,” said Eilertsen. “We don’t do enough to show the many eclectic and professional artists that live here and I think that is too bad. The Community Foundation and Creative Sonoma should be given credit for making it happen.”

The 2017 Discovered show is produced by Creative Sonoma, a division of the County of Sonoma’s Economic Development Board and by the Petaluma Arts Center. It is made possible by the Artist Awards Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation Sonoma County, which was created by more than 50 donors from 2007 to 2011 with support from the James Irvine Foundation.

The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville St. in Petaluma. A series of workshops connected to the show will be scheduled from January through March. Updates on this program and the scheduled events can be found atpetalumaartscenter.org/.