Piedmont artists “spring” back with exuberant work
By Lou Fancher
A joyful re-opening
The pandemic portfolios of five Piedmont artists are on display as Piedmont Center for the Arts resumes in-person public events. Heralding an end to the Center’s more than one year closure due to COVID-19, Spring Creative: Five Piedmont Artists celebrates the creative work of Valerie Corvin, Mike Welch, Paula Valenzuela, Jon Schleuning, and Brian Molyneaux.
Visitors will appreciate that the art show opens with careful choreography: during specific gallery hours May 29-30 and June 5-6, attendance is limited to a maximum of twenty-five visitors at a time. After checking in for a simple health screening, masks are required and visitors will be asked to sanitize their hands before circling the exhibition in a one-way direction to prevent clustering. No food or drink are permitted.
Unlike the necessarily cautious footsteps taken to preserve social distancing at the show, the artists’ imaginations and technical talents are clearly unrestricted. Overall, the artwork conveys an exuberant sense of life, of being alive; with power, propulsive energy, and purpose spiraling out of a smile in a portrait, or eternal nature captivating attention in a landscape or the rigorous texture and layering in an abstract painting or print leaving an impression of tumult, but also, tremendous vigor.
Photographer Brian Molyneaux has been making images of people he meets on city streets for more than five years. Three men he ran into as they were picking up a pizza — a rapper and hip hop artist, a model and makeup artist, and a music producer — struck him as fabulously regal. “I saw Moon, Nefertiti, and Barry and knew that I had to say hello and photograph them,” he says. “Sometimes it’s the subject or the light, other times it’s the background or something else that strikes me. This time it was everything all at once. I have photographed thousands of people in this manner but this felt different. Enhanced. Almost like an aura. If I didn’t photograph them right then and there, I’d be missing out.” [Learn more at brianmolyneaux.com.]
Paula Valenzuela’s process is far more deliberative. Born in Chile, her professional career in clinical psychology and public health at UC Berkeley and involvement with the artistic community in the Mission District in San Francisco are integrated in her artistic practices. Her large, abstract, mixed-media paintings stretch in multiple dimensions and include selections from a series named “Constellations.” She says the paintings on canvas and panel are “inspired by the sky, wondering where we come from and what we are part of. Stars, constellations, dimensions, universal symbols as an expression of a collective consciousness.” [Learn more at paulavalenzuelaart.com.]
The dynamic portraiture created by artist Mike Welch assumes realism as its base, but like the shows’ other artists, elevates the art to a higher platform. Collaged text and titles or fragments of what appear to be textiles and paint allowed to flow in drips or scored by a pallet knife offer conceptual depth. “I have a charcoal sketch of Aretha Franklin in the show,” he says, in answer to a question about a piece with special significance. “Music and art go hand-in-hand for me. I always have music playing while working in my studio. It provides a creative energy. Aretha is such an iconic figure and that pushes me to try to represent her in the same style.” [Learn more at mikewelchfineart.com.]
Jon Schleuning’s series of small-scale paintings aim at intimacy. Using primarily handmade inks foraged from local pigments, he says the 100-day project became a daily meditation. The inks and other materials used to create the business card-size prints include sycamore bark, sourgrass flowers and lichen collected from a cemetery; burnt pages from the book Fahrenheit 451; summer peach pits and charcoaled library pencils. The paintings all have a common horizon line and are grouped in sets of 25. “I envisioned them ultimately merging into a whole work, like Saul Steinberg’s The Line,” he says. “You can look at each small painting on its own, or step back and see how the pattern of individual days form into something more. I love how you can zoom in and out of the work.” [Learn more at jonschleuningart.com.]
Valerie Corvin created eight paintings, each 12″ x 12″ framed, because she, like Schleuning, chose to challenge herself by painting on a small scale. “I typically paint large paintings and sometimes that is easier for me.” About her work in general, she says, “Nature inspires me, I see unique organic shapes and marks: rock formations in the mountains, the shape of a melting snow patch, a grouping of trees on a hillside, erosion of the earth on a hiking trail, or an aerial view of the landscape. These are starting points for interpretation. Ultimately, I hope my art reminds the viewer of a connection to the earth.” [Learn more at valeriecorvin.com.]
The power of viewing art together
Similarly, experiencing art in the company of other people as galleries, art centers, and museums begin to open their doors to the public reminds us we are a collective. It awakens an impulse we feel to gather and share — a unifying impulse we’ve suppressed for more than a year. Consider adding support for local Piedmont artistry with a purchase of artwork for sale or a donation to the center.