When one from Redding wants to see Contemporary Art, they make the 3-4 hour drive to the Bay Area to the galleries and museums there. I doubt that they would think to drive an hour in the opposite direction up I-5 to the mountains of Siskiyou County. Surprisingly though they could encounter a selection of artists whose work is as contemporary as the work one would find in the Bay Area or any urban Art center. Secret Neighbors is a show of three such artists who reside in the middle of ranching and forest environs in one California’s least populated and largest counties.
We could all agree that one wouldn’t move to a place like Siskiyou County to launch a creative career, in reality it could result in quite the opposite. Ironically though, Mount Shasta was a destination for many a 19th century painters who were eager to add images of the mountain to their canvas. Neither of these three artists lug their canvas and paints around the forest to catch such a splendid view as their predecessors did in the 1800s, but their work is firmly rooted in the development of art during 20th century.
Siskiyou County, Alta California, the true north, is not an easy place. The beauty and mystery of the landscape combined with the complexity of it’s history and contemporary social relationships produce a dynamic where veins of creativity flourish. But the same tension that stirs creation, can also stifles expression. To make and share art in Siskiyou is to be constantly caught between a rock and a hard place, a place where there is no comfort for artistic norms but one of few places where pure alchemy can happen.
Oliver has family roots in the area which go back to the early 1900s when his mother’s family came to work at the Weed Lumber mill. Reared in the Bay Area but moving around to New Mexico, New York and Spain, he eventually moved back to the area to take a teaching job at Southern Oregon University. That’s where he met Kim Presley in 2006, a Yreka resident who traveled to Ashland for art classes. Wareham was a fixture in the Bay Area arts but, after a divorce and the rising rents, looked north for space to create his large steel sculptures and purchased an old dairy in Big Springs.
In 2008, Presley spearheaded the opening of a community gallery Liberty Arts, in Yreka. Oliver participated as an original board member and help select the first six shows in which Wareham was one of the exhibiting artists.
Watching her help tend her small ranch, Presley’s neighbors would be surprised with what she does in her modest studio. Closely aligned with artists from the 80s, the conceptual and political works Presley creates are one-of-a-kind, addressing issues or ideas that she feels pulled to. Oliver is mostly known to his peers as a filmmaker in the area for his documentaries on the environment and Siskiyou County history, but has returned to his love of painting. His current work is a blending of language and color which won him the Best of Show at this year’s West Coast Biennial. Wareham, who has been a long-time creator of large scale steel sculptures, has installed many around his spacious studio and grounds in Big Springs. He is also a two-dimensional artist with roots in the modernist traditions of painting. In this show, he has taken a departure from steel to work in a less labor demanding media-cardboard.
Around 1910 Mark Oliver’s great grandfather lost a poker game and with it his hotel in Floriston, California. He moved his family to Weed and began work in the mill. In WWll his mother’s family left Weed to work in the shipyards of Richmond and that is where Mark was born and raised. After college Mark ended up in a small rural community in Northern New Mexico where he painted and farmed for seven years until he was drawn back to the Bay Area and began to exhibit his work. Acceptance into the Fine Art Work Center in Provincetown took him East and eventually to NYC where he had a studio in Williamsburg. Restless, he returned to New Mexico and eventually made his way to Spain and lived and worked for three years. He finally returned and finished his masters at University of California San Diego where he focused on film/performance and installation.
With an MFA in hand, Mark set on a search for a teaching job where he found himself competing against 250 applicants for a single position. After a sabbatical replacement at nearby Ashland’s SOU and then a year at COS he gave up the search and focused on filmmaking. Most people think of Mark as a filmmaker especially for the award-winning documentary From The Quarters to Lincoln Heights he directed in 2011. Few people know of his past as a painter in the Bay Area so this exhibit will offer a glimpse of what he has been up to when he isn’t sitting behind a computer editing. Most recently he collaborated with the Shasta County Arts Council and landed a Local Impact Grant for the project Golden Ghosts.
A native of Southern California, Kim earned an Art degree from CSU Long Beach and worked as a graphic artist in advertising before “making it over the wall” into Siskiyou County thirty years ago. Her interest in art and community led her, and others, to create Liberty Arts in 2008, which keeps her busy outside the studio. She began the process of finding a focus for an authentic expression of substance at the time of a new administration’s inauguration, with hate speech spewing from both sides of the aisle, and a growing crescendo of social hostility. Her work in this exhibition reflects her awareness and rejection of a polarized and uncivil dialog, in what has become a prescribed set of binary values. Understanding that every viewer of American Fray will be offended, the artist hopes that recognizing the debasement of popular discourse may help to soften, and perhaps, elevate the sharing of personal beliefs in a more constructive way.
Since his stint as the first Artist in Residence at the Norcal Solid Waste Systems facility in 1990, where he set up the studio and wrote the safety manual, Wareham has been using recycled steel as the primary source for his sculpture, but he goes far beyond what most artists do with recycled materials these days. It is the “pre-used history that the material inherently holds”, he says, that inspires him. “These worn-out metal things will continue to have a life by gathering, refocusing and rejoining into a collective other life”. Wareham has full control of the new compositions, but they also appear to have an uncanny life of their own, a power as new objects that hold the key to the life of the old: it seems that the scrap metal was always meant to be an element of the new sculpture in the hands of the artist.
Exhibit runs August 2 through September 28
Tuesday through Thursday – noon to 5pm
Friday – noon to 6pm
Saturdays, August 24 & September 28 – 11am to 3pm
CLOSED Sundays, Mondays & holidays