Get to know the local artists behind fine art murals, surrealist paintings and oh-so-sweet textiles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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More local arts from The Six Fifty:
- Atari and the dawn of video game culture
- Get to know the curator behind many of SFO’s world-class museum exhibits
- Meet the Bay Area artist who illustrated the epic TIME Magazine cover of Christine Blasey Ford
- Wonder what Warhol’s Instagram would have looked like?
- Iceberg portraits and the “terrible beauty” of storms: the otherworldly imagery of Camille Seaman
- Behind the curtain of Palo Alto’s 90-year-old cinematic treasure—The Stanford Theatre