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Seager Gray Gallery presents “Grace,” an exhibition of paintings by Northern California artist Kristen Garneau, running Nov. 2 through Nov. 30. A reception for the artists will take place on Saturday, November 10 from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. The exhibition is accompanied by full color catalog.
Living in Marin County, Kristen Garneau is no stranger to beautiful landscapes. The Pacific beachfronts, the rolling hills of west Marin and the majesty of Mount Tamalpais have provided enough beauty to attract painters like William Keith since the great American migration west. Garneau, however, does not fit the genre of plein air or landscape painter. Her concern is not with describing specific places in paint, but to render the image down to its pure essence to convey her personal experience of it. She is fascinated with the shifting light and weather – magical moments when the sun filters through mist and clouds at sunrise, sunset, dusk and dawn – flashes of mystery and grace.
In her first one person exhibition after a hiatus of five years, she has, in her words, “zoomed in” on the natural world she captures on her canvases, exploring the raw mystical experience she sees in these transitional hours of the day. In “After the Storm,” at 66 x 78” the largest painting she has ever created, Garneau closes in on an expanse of beachfront with bands of sky, water, seafoam and sand in horizontal bars of color bathed in glorious, unsettled light. In the suggestive breadth and masterful handling of the paint she is able to share the startling sensation of the rugged coast as it recovers, as if healing itself from the lashes of rain and wind.
In “Lifting Fog II,” darkened trees contrast with a white mist of fog rising to meet the first glow of morning, greeted by bits of golden light along a ridge. For Garneau, the paintings begin with one of these epiphanies in nature, but the results are the result of careful studio practice. Surfaces are formed by layers and layers of paint and forms are simplified. In this way Garneau owes as much to abstract expressionism as any other tradition. She is speaking the language of paint, layering and modulating her compositions to more fully express the metaphysical properties and emotional impacts of the scene.
Works like “Moonlit Fields” or the elegant “Show Snake II” are tonal and Rothko-like in their ability to create power by the positioning of one area of color beside another.
In addition to Rothko, Garneau cites Gottardo Piazzoni, the late San Francisco landscape master, whose influences can be easily seen in the dramatic power of her restrained palette. Like Piazzoni, Garneau revels in the ever-changing light that bathe these dramatic times of day.
Kristen Garneau grew up in Contra Costa County. She spent her time riding horses in the watershed lands observing the constant variations of nature. Although she attended CCAC (the California College of Arts and Crafts) for two years, it was later that she began to mature as an artist and develop her own skills and vision. Aided by guidance from her mentor, Chester Arnold, she softened her palette and began to concentrate on the orchestration between shapes and open space.
As noted in the 2013 essay by Alan Selsor, “The desire for discovery has always motivated the artist herself: “I have matured as a painter, but in a sense I am still that young girl riding horses in Contra Costa – that young girl who is happiest when she is out there in a wonderland of the imagination. There is magic in the landscape. Yet, this magic can be easily overlooked, unless you take the time to stop and open the senses.”
Perhaps Corot was getting at that sense of the magic when he said, “The sun sinks more and more behind the horizon. Bam! he throws his last ray, a streak of gold and purple which fringes the flying clouds. There, now it has entirely disappeared. Bien! bien! twilight commences.” (Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot)
Seager Gray Gallery
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