‘Elemental’ exhibit coming to Piedmont Center for the Arts
By Lou Fancher
It’s no wonder artists in tumultuous times turn to nature for escape, catharsis or awe provided by observing the simplicity and force found in wind, water, plants and trees, the earth and its atmosphere. Delivering respite from divisive politics, social media, economic inequity, fractured race relations and one environmental crisis after another, there’s irony in that human-created stress finds relief in crafting or viewing handmade art.
Valerie Corvin, Michele Hofherr and Katie Korotzer, three East Bay artists featured in “Elemental,” an exhibit at Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA) opening Jan. 31, offer an opportunity to appreciate their most recent abstract art and experience nature-inspired peace.
Piedmont-based Corvin is one of the PCA’S founders and holds a master’s degree in museum administration. Her father was a respected jewelry designer whose reputation intimidated Corvin until, in her 40s, she began to create representational artwork. Moving into abstraction opened a window and resulted in deeply personal works in which etching moves the eye across details embedded in large shapes.
“I’ve been working with black line and bigger shapes,” she says of the approximately 10 new paintings to be displayed at the show. Focused on nature, Corvin has been drawn to unity of line, shape and marks in rock formations. Areas of “quiet shapes juxtaposed with dramatic marks create energy. The rhythm of repeated, organic shapes keeps the tension from being all over the canvas,” she says. A basket of smaller, 12-by-12-inch pieces will be available. “The smaller works are fun because I can experiment with compositions, then take them large.”
Hofherr moved to painting after 20 years as a professional photographer. Working primarily with black-and-white film and seeking depth and abstraction, the Oakland-based artist began using digital tools to layer painting on photos.
“I realized the painting itself was fun. That’s the departure that led to more discovery,” she recalls.
A series of horse photos became the inspiration for a collection of paintings.
“I was looking while photographing the horses at color, texture, shapes. Later, remembering the environment, the sky and land, it was all about putting the next level on canvas. As a photographer, I never played with Photoshop, never went back to a photo over and over. It was one-shot-and-done. That’s why painting is fun: it can go on for months.”
The paintings Hofherr has selected for the exhibit are variations on single color palettes. Exploring blue, brown, white and green found in nature, she began to appreciate green, a color previously not a favorite. “I’m not a real green type person, but next to the white, it spoke to me. It became more demanding, asking for attention.”
Korotzer, of Orinda, holds Mark Rothco and Helen Frankenthaler as art heroes, emboldening her to use “big cans of paint” in artwork that pulses with color and appears to spring off the canvas. For “Elemental,” a more contemplative approach applied to the 12 to 15 pieces she will display began during walks with her family pet, an English shepherd. “He’s 40 pounds and needs to be outside a lot. I walked him in a park near my home, thought about the wind, the light, the feelings you have when it’s sunny or when you’re near water,” she said.
Seeking to infuse light and a sense of peace into her works without eliminating dark colors, the soothing overall impression when viewed at close range provides unexpected texture and variation.
“There are different colors all going on and up close, there’s a lot to take in,” she says.
Exposure and visibility are topics the three artists say become deeply personal because their work is not about finding people, images or places in the art but about revealing emotions and expression. Although Korotzer has gained confidence due to validation from selling more art in the last several years, she says, “I still feel exposed when I paint something that’s 3-feet-by-4-feet and put it on the wall and invite the world to look at it. It’s like public speaking.”
Corvin has heard people say, “I could do that,” or, “my kid could do that.” Appreciating art, especially abstract art, she says requires training the eye. “The more people look, the more they see and find pleasure and connection. It’s a matter of exposure.”
Asked if movements to recognize the contributions of women, people of color and other under-represented groups in art, science, technology, medicine and other fields have impacted their careers, Corvin gives a conditional nod to museums and galleries attempting to adjust.
“I know of one museum planning to put modern sculptures made by a female artist with French 18th century furniture to highlight local artists and women. How will that look and will people respond? I think there has to be a deeper dive, and we’ll see how it works out over time.”
Korotzer says women have been doing amazing work without recognition for centuries.
“Even to be labeled ‘woman artist’ is demeaning — but only because the culture sees it that way. It’s like men do things, and then when women do it it gets a qualifier.”
Hofherr agrees, adding, “Until we have a show that’s just ‘artists,’ not ‘women artists,’ we still have somewhere to get to. But it’s definitely better for everybody. All the lanes are open: people can represent themselves, so it’s more democratic. You don’t have to have gone to certain schools, been presented by high-visibility galleries or been included in major museum exhibits to get your artwork seen.”