wet earth

Performance Art

A fine day was made finer last week when I serendipitously parked my car next to the fabulous new mural taking shape on Alvarado Street, in downtown Monterey.  Created by Khalid Hussein, whom I once interviewed years ago for an article about a high school poetry contest, the mural occupies a 200-foot-long construction wall that will one day—officials say 2014—give way to the Monterey Market Hall.

When I praise the mural, which features large glowing fruits and vegetables triumphantly emerging from the future Market Hall and floating above the Monterey Peninsula, Hussein is quick to mention the mentors who helped to guide him on the path of a successful artist.

“Norm Muhl, my art teacher at P.G. High School, was awesome,” Hussein says.  “He stood behind every wacky idea I had.”

Hussein received further support at Youth Arts Collective.  “At YAC, it wasn’t just the space, or the materials, it was the gentle way that Meg Biddle and Marcia Perry slowly imparted a world view.  It was true communication across the generations.”

Hussein went on to study art at UCLA; he now divides his time between Monterey, Los Angeles and Palm Springs, where he shows with the Renegade Art Gallery.  He hopes that the Market Hall’s mural, scheduled for completion on March 14th, opens up new possibilities for further involvement with the community.

During the short time I spent talking with Hussein, I noticed that the mural received a lot of attentive interest from passersby, especially children.  Recently, a large and enthusiastic group of current YACsters spent the day painting with Hussein.

He says that making art in such a busy area makes the work a public performance as much as a job.  Several people have asked him if he’s getting paid; some even wonder if he’s homeless.

“We are professionals,” Hussein says.  “This isn’t just a hobby.”

Time Travel in Monterey

“The past is a foreign country,” L. P. Hartley wrote in his 1953 novel The Go-Between, “they do things differently there.”  Following Hartley’s thought, it is easy to imagine the past as remote, as some other, distant place, far from where we are today.  But what about those moments when we find a window into the past, and look through it, and the years—or centuries—seem to dissolve?  Where are we?  Have we left the present?  Time-traveled to the past?  Or are we somewhere in-between?

Master etcher Justin Ward is a creator of such windows of the in-between, images that play with our sense of the past and present.  His current exhibit at the Monterey Conference Center offers sites and scenes familiar to anyone who has walked around downtown Monterey, yet they are transformed by a mode of artistry that evokes another time.

Etching is a centuries-old technique that is time and labor-intensive, demanding incredible patience.  You can’t rush an etching.  Ward’s exhibit includes an exemplary display of tools, books, and wall text explaining the process of creating an etching, helping visitors understand that etching itself is a deep experience of time: the unhurried time needed to create this uniquely beautiful kind of art.

Clearly inspired by the Old Masters, especially Rembrandt, Ward is working in sets of images.  The current exhibit focuses on Old Monterey, Fisherman’s Wharf, and a set of prints created in homage to Monterey’s own Armin Hansen, who also produced series of fine etchings in the early 20th century.

Ward excels at framing his images: foliage, clouds, and textured skies draw the viewer’s attention into the print.  In “San Carlos Cathedral,” trees seems to part open, as if to reveal the divinity of the structure.  In “Larkin House,” the foliage is positively luxuriant, lending the building a vital, dynamic quality, almost pulsing under a generous oceanic sky.

In “Cooper Molera,” the delicate clouds offer a handsome contrast to the dark graininess of the wooden barn and its densely textured stonework.

Ward’s marine skies are especially dramatic.  “Fisherman’s Wharf Pier (Large)” balances the sweeping movement of clouds with the endless pull of the tides.

Ward uses different techniques and differently-hued papers and inks to achieve a variety of tonal effects, from soft brown or adobe colors to steelier grays, blacks and whites.  In “Adobe Door,” the warm tones of antique paper become a cool, white adobe wall, its darkened door inviting us to imagine what lies on the other side.

I like the way these images play with the imagination, inviting us to visualize Monterey’s landmarks as places of history that traverse the ages, rooted in the past yet still living and breathing today.  And there is another kind of time-travel at work here, as we are also invited to slow down our own rhythms—think of the artist’s patient hand—as we take in each work.  Ward’s finely-detailed prints are windows into the past, and yet this is very much a present-tense exhibit, since the subjects of his attention are right outside the doors of the Conference Center, waiting to be discovered once again.

“Past, Present, Future,” an exhibit of etchings by Justin Ward, at the Monterey Conference Center, 1 Portola Plaza, through April 6.

Find the Love

Yesterday I was at The Works in Pacific Grove to order a book on mindfulness, doing my best to move beyond the bad mood I found myself in.  After placing my order with the clerk, I glanced at the far end of the shop, where a woman and man were hanging some brightly-colored paintings.  I hesitated for a moment, because I knew that if I got close to these paintings I would have to let go of my bad mood—even from a distance I could sense the delight that emanated from them.

I went to look at the paintings.

“Everyone should paint!” the woman said as I approached.

“Are you the artist?” I asked.

The woman said that she was, told me her name was Debbie Tucker, and mentioned that all her paintings contain the word love.

As Tucker and her husband continued their installation, I stepped close to a painting of a field and found “love” tucked into an earthy furrow.  It was fun, then, to go from one canvas to another and find the love.

Tucker’s paintings are vivid and juicy, with a strong sense of design.  There are fruits and flowers and landscapes, and also a jaunty red bicycle set against a dynamic orange background, poised on a beautiful patch of ground as blue as the sea.

This would be a great exhibit to visit with children, giving them the task of finding “love” in all the paintings, with maybe a book purchase as a reward.

My bad mood was no match for so much color and joy.  I had found the love.