“Brilliance” exhibit on display in Danville
By Lou Fancher
Vibrant versatility is the engine behind “Brilliance,” an exhibit open through April 23 at the Blackhawk Gallery.
Featuring the wearable silk art of San Francisco-based guest artist Natasha Foucault and the work of 41 members of the Alamo Danville Artists’ Society, the exhibit includes paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry, photographs and more.
“I never know what is going to come in each time,” says Debby Koonce, one of three curators who organized the show. “The artists submit what they want, although we have final say. They’re established artists, so I turn very few pieces down.”
Koonce, a plein air painter and member of several Bay Area artists’ groups, is a former special educator. She says her “everyone-can-make-art” attitude explains her appreciation for eclectic styles and techniques. “Art is creative energy,” she says, “I approach curating salon-style,” which means that artwork at the gallery is displayed from ceiling to floor. A mix of genres and sizes keeps a visitor’s eye constantly moving. “It’s almost like a stained-glass window, with both larger and smaller pieces and not all abstract or all landscape on one wall.”
Harmony, she adds, is achieved by a show’s commonalities — perhaps the artists’ use of light and shadow, dazzling color and texture, or shared content, like scenes of Mount Diablo or Tri-Valley wine country. “The market for abstract art seems to be growing, but people who love landscapes are always into their Mount Diablo,” Koonce says.
Although Foucault has yet to feature the locally famous mountain, it would take a mountain-size warehouse to store and display her wide-ranging work. The Danville gallery is showing only a fraction of the wearable art she produces — skirts, dresses, capes, scarves, saris, kimonos, ponchos and more. And that’s not to mention the bold, fine-art paintings and fanciful interior pieces that include lampshades, wall hangings, drapes, curtains and tri-fold panel screens.
Foucault grew up in Russia and is likely the only artist in the world whose expressive, meticulously created silk artistry can be attributed to an infected needle. Inadvertently exposed to Hepatitis B when she was young, she gave up the ceramics and oil paints she loved after being advised to avoid exposure to heavy metals. Turning to silk painting that uses lead-free dyes, Foucault developed her technique. Combined with a passion for travel, nature and art history, the subject matter of her work includes locations from Italy to coastal California; plants, flowers, birds and marine and land animals; and images inspired by fine artists including Miro, Matisse, O’Keefe and others. “Silk Diary: An Artist’s Journey from Moscow to Mendocino,” a book she co-authored with Jeanne-Michele Salander, combines 80 full color plates with explanations of the process used to create each painting. Stories about her adventures add a personal touch to the book.
“I’ve lived in Glen Park, this area of San Francisco for 26 years,” she says. “Yes, I can see the water from my studio. Reflection in water or glass, it is always my favorite thing to paint.”
Collectors of her work and people who encounter it at galleries — including Silk and Stone, Featuring Natasha’s Silks, a gallery in Half Moon Bay she recently acquired — often ask to hear the stories behind her work.
“I show them the pictures I take for reference. They are attracted to the art that looks so real, like the photos.”
Silk art involves the use of gutta, a glue-like substance applied over pencil-sketched image lines on the silk before color is added.
“My technique is nothing special,” she says. “The interest is that there’s sharpness from the gutta lines that hold the dye and then softness otherwise.”
Jacquard’s Silk dyes bring natural, earth tone luster to many of Foucault’s pieces; French dyes that she says have “more of a chemical look” are used when the most vivid color is desired. At the gallery, the exhibit includes ponchos, scarves and capes that can be worn in eight different configurations. The prices range from $89 to $350. The variety begs a question: Does she ever change her original concept while working on a one-of-a-kind piece?
“You can’t improvise the image,” she says. “Part of silk art is not very forgiving because the drawing and structure have to be carefully planned. The lines are precise. But yes, colors — I can play with them endlessly.”