Get to know the local artists behind fine art murals, surrealist paintings and oh-so-sweet textiles.

(Image via Caia Koopman’s Facebook page)

The art world hasn’t always welcomed women artists with open arms. In the ’80s, an excessive 85% of the nudes at The Metropolitan (but a slim 5% of the featured artists) portrayed female figures — a percentage which provoked activist group Guerrilla Girls to ask, via posters along the streets of SoHo, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” Thankfully, times have changed.

Today, seven of Silicon Valley’s leading local artists are women. Whether creating on the surface of skateboards or traditional canvas, whether conveying messages with sewing machines or spray paint, these visionaries all share an exceptional eye for color, a rich understanding of symbolism and a drive to convey messages that matter. Most importantly, they share an understanding that the word “feminine” (in its truest form) isn’t a fragile, flimsy term. In the right hands, it carries a joyful strength, a visceral liveliness that refuses to be overlooked.

Eager to encounter their artwork? Allow us to make introductions.

Selections from Caia Koopman’s portfolio. (Imagery via Caia Koopman’s website)

Caia Koopman

Pop surrealist painter and Santa Cruzean Caia Koopman kick-started her career designing the underbellies of skateboards and snowboards. These days, she’s cultivated a style she describes as “cute yet macabre.” Her work with bright acrylics on wooden panels often integrates fantastical elements — dreams, mythical creatures and Día de los Muertos skulls. And with a fondness for juxtaposition, the women of her work appear as willow-y warriors with stares somehow simultaneously defiant and serene.

Recently, Koopman illustrated a picture book in collaboration with ocean conservationist Casson Trenor. This magical deep-sea adventure, follows a young girl called Umijoo and her encounters with some new underwater friends, including a vampire squid, an octopus and an anglerfish (that fellow with the glowing antennae and the ugly teeth you probably know from Finding Nemo). Inky ocean depths contrast with the intense color of coral and luminescent fish, creating a Little Mermaid-meets-punk-rock kind of vibe.

Watch her process in action or check out the space where she creates, for her upcoming collaboration with Open Studios on October 5th, 6th, 19th & 20th.

Follow Koopman on Instagram @caiakoopman or find more work on her website.

Harumo Sato pictured in front of her work on Dac Phuc restaurant in San Jose. (Image via Harumo Sato’s website)

Harumo Sato

When artists take themselves too seriously, they risk weighing down their artwork and coming off forced. But as soon as you behold one of Harumo Sato’s offbeat, eclectic illustrations, you can just tell — when she created that piece, she was enjoying herself immensely. Her uninhibited approach to patterns and joyful use of color carries a playful energy, sweeping up the viewer.

(Image via Harumo Sato’s website)

Sato credits art as the most effective security against negative thoughts, and identifies the main message of her pieces as encouraging others to uncover the color in the everyday. This strikes a deeper chord after recognizing her own triumph over difficulty. In earlier years, this Mountain View resident intended to be a baker by profession. But suddenly and bafflingly, she experienced paralysis in her dominant hand. Art became physical therapy during rehabilitation — then became her new career path. Her illustrations, installations and murals have won her recognition as one of four recipients of the Leigh Weimers Emerging Artists Award this year.

Follow Sato on Instagram @harumosato or find more work on her website.

(Imagery via Amy Ahlstrom’s website)

Amy Ahlstrom

Amy Ahlstrom’s one-of-a-kind quilts resemble nothing you’ve witnessed folded on furniture at Grandma’s house. Rather than developing her creations in some flower-y parlour, this San Mateo-based artist takes to the streets, hunting for graffiti, signage and sticker art adorning alleyways, walls and the occasional dumpster. With this photographed inspiration, she converts images into material shapes, then “draws” over the surface of her quilts with a sewing machine to add texture.

Her depictions are bright and eye catching: strands of flamingo pink text above audacious women in aquamarine, rainbow diamonds overlapping grey skulls. Stitching covers it all with winding, serpentine patterns. Ahlstrom describes her resulting works as “pop art rendered in fabric” — layers of meaning stitched into silk and cotton collages that reflect city neighborhoods. Her most recent series depicts double portraits of women, one signifying society’s scrutiny, the other representing self-analysis.

She will be featured October 19th, 20th, 26th, & 27th as a part of SF Open Studios.

Follow Ahlstrom on Instagram @amy_ahlstrom or find more work on her website.

(Imagery via Brittni Paul’s Facebook page)

Brittni Paul

Brittni Paul’s love of ink and nature transcends the tattooed jellyfish and ferns trailing across her skin. Her incredibly detailed depictions of flora and fauna are carefully conveyed with Micron pens and ink. But what’s most unique about Paul’s practice are the gnarled wooden cross-sections she employs as canvas. By leaving unpainted negative space between objects, she allows the natural texture of the swirled growth rings to peek through. The sepia tones of the wood soften the intensity of the black ink. And the rough, imperfect outer edges add character as well as a wildness suitable to the subject matter.

‘Out of Sight’ … Paul’s baby gorilla piece on wood. (Image via Brittni Paul’s Facebook page)

Living Ghosts, her recent series, depicts animals and ecosystems on the edge of extinction in hopes of inspiring awareness and action. “Working at a solution can be exhausting, but as the dominating species, it’s our responsibility to defend the defenseless,” the artist promotes on Facebook.

Find Paul at the final NorCal Night Market of 2019 on September 20th.

Follow Paul on Instagram @brittnipaul.ink or find more work on her website.

Charlotte Kruk

How can we fight society’s stereotype that women are eye candy? Charlotte Kruk’s ironic response is crafting candy wrapper dresses. Despite discussing weightier issues like consumerism and sexism, her wearable sculptures maintain a lighthearted tone. Because really, how can you possibly remain somber in the presence of zany colors and the childhood nostalgia triggered by Starbursts and Snickers?

When inventing graduation gowns out of Smarties wrappers and ringmaster costumes from Animal Crackers boxes, Kruk works out of a Wonka-esque studio covered in peppermints the size of dinner plates. But she can also be found in a classroom teaching high school art. Not at all shy sharing about her day job, Kruk finds it actually allows her more freedom as an artist. “Because of the steady income, I never feel compelled to make what the market dictates is popular creatively,” she explains in an interview with My Artist resources. “Instead I can honor what my inner voice insists, allowing the pureness of my voice to reign true.”

To learn more about Kruk’s work and studio, read our full write-up or check out her exhibit at New Museum of Los Gatos titled In The Artists Studio: featuring Charlotte Kruk (it runs until September 1).

Follow Kruk on Instagram @charlotte.kruk or find more work on her website.

(Images via Fiorenza Gorini’s Facebook page)

Fiorenza Gorini

It was following her move from Milan, Italy, to Northern California that Firorenza Gorini first discovered her gift. After taking up painting classes at the Palo Alto Art Center, she couldn’t put down the brush. “I still remember my first assignment which was to paint a monochromatic lemon,” she shares. “I was so incredibly happy painting that single piece of fruit, and would never have imagined that I would go on from that lemon to painting full figures and portraits — or being hired to paint on commission.”

Gorini expresses a fascination for the journey of each painting, thrilling in the mystery as she seeks the final result. Although she still considers her work in its exploration stage, her style has developed significantly over the past decade. Her transition from representational to more abstract depictions allowed a newfound freedom to find its way into each brushstroke. “In my opinion, art is like a never-ending adventure driven by the desire to get better, to push my limits — and to overcome my fears of failure.”

Her art will soon be displayed at Palo Alto Art Center, September 20th at 7pm.

Follow Gorini on Instagram @artedifiorenza or find more work on her website.

(Imagery via Ink Dwell Instagram)

Jane Kim

The scientifically accurate murals of Jane Kim fuse wild creativity and wildlife. One of Kim’s most impressive accomplishments resides on a wall at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This 2,500-foot tribute to the diversity and evolution of birds not only depicts all 243 families, but shows them true to size (yes, that includes the 30-foot Yutyrannus). As the National Audubon Society describes it, “this avian Vatican also has its own Michelangelo.”

Due to her Migrating Mural series, massive monarch butterflies flit across university buildings, walls and even an eight-story air traffic control tower across the nation. With bodies that stretch longer than giraffes, wings segmented like stained-glass windows and brilliant orange hues that practically glow in sunlight, these primadonnas of the insect world advocate for conservation efforts along their migration route.

Read our more detailed account of Kim’s work or visit her 8th (and very recent) Migrating Mural, in San Francisco.

Follow Kim on Instagram @inkdwell or find more work on her website.

Stay up to date with other coverage from The Six Fifty by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, featuring event listings, reviews and articles showcasing the best that the Peninsula has to offer. Sign up here!

More local arts from The Six Fifty:

Johanna Hickle Profile Photo

Johanna Harlow

Journalist with a fondness for micro-cultures and all things quirky.

You May Also Like

A ‘Rolls-Royce’ and years of training: How chocolate experts SWEET55 prepare for Valentine’s Day

Author Stephanie Lucianovic

How Bay Area foodie culture inspired Menlo Park kid-lit author’s “The League of Picky Eaters”

The best hidden museums of the 650

Winter holiday feasts: 21 Peninsula eateries where you can celebrate the season