Tree bark and leaves, seed pods and grasses can be a source of creative inspiration for artists as well as the components of papermaking. Being both delicate and tough, such fibrous elements are the focus of two inspiring exhibitions at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.
In the front part of the museum is Larry Thomas: Coastal Echoes. This exhibition of recent paintings, prints, drawings, and calligraphy comes from a body of work inspired by the Northern California coast. Thomas’ abstract imagery captures the changing moods of the coastal landscape, where water and land interact in a ceaseless shifting of patterns and rhythms. The exhibition consists of five different series that reflect on this coastal theme with poetic abstraction. After passing through a field of dangling paper prayer flags in the entryway, the gallery opens to a group of about ten large paintings called the Hawk Field Series from 2012. Muted pastel tones and curvilinear markings capture the feel of a wind-blown hill top. Like clouds in the sky, you can gaze at the paintings and see things, animals or birds, or something just on the edge
of familiar. In one I saw what could be a hare hiding in the grass, and thought of the fine etching of a hare by the fifteenth-century German artist, Albrecht Durer.
Another series is called Grass Mountain Drawings, from 2011 to 2012. The 14 drawings are displayed on a long low shelf along the wall. The ink and pencil drawings use calligraphic lines to describe what could be leaves and grasses, and perhaps skulls and feathers. The linear elements are softened and held together with an atmospheric wash of acrylic paint. Thomas worked primarily as a printmaker in the early years of his career before experimenting with other media, including calligraphy. Currently he is working on a series of larger-scale oil paintings. Larry Thomas was a professor of printmaking, and Dean of Academic Affairs, for many years at the San Francisco Art Institute before retiring to the Fort Bragg area in Northern California, where he currently lives and works.
Toward the back of the museum is a well-matched companion exhibition called The Art of Handmade Paper. This informative exhibition explores the connections between past and current papermaking traditions and practices of both eastern and western cultures. The curator, Simon Blattner, is a noted scholar and collector of handmade paper. Included are historic Japanese papers which date back several centuries, paper-making equipment, videos of the process, as well as examples of contemporary papermaking. One rare and remarkable piece is a 21-foot antique Japanese scroll that illustrates the stages of the traditional papermaking process, from the gathering of mulberry bark through the completion of the final product. This fine piece shares company with some excellent works by contemporary U.S. artists, such as Amanda Degener, Lynn Sures, John Babcock, Beck Whitehead, Helen Heibert, Michelle Wilson, Peter and Donna Thomas, and Susan Mackin Dolan. This recent work both honors the traditions, as well as pushes the boundaries of the medium by incorporating new materials and techniques. Executive Director, Kate Eilertsen, states, “The exhibition serves to remind that paper is not a simple utilitarian technology, but also an art form of the highest order.”
Both exhibitions continue through December 30. For more information check their website, www.svma.org.