Category Archives: Other venues

Bragging Monday

My painting, The Lighthousekeeper’s House, won 3rd Place at the 16th Annual Ironstone Spring Obsession Show over the weekend. A big thank you to the judges and to Ironstone Vineyards (especially to Chris Gomez), and congratulations to all of the prize winners and artists. They said at the reception that they had over 250 applicants (I’m not sure if that’s paintings or artists), of which 100 were accepted.

At Ironstone Vineyards, the Lighthousekeeper's House
Here’s the painting with the 3rd place ribbon. The Lighthousekeeper’s House, 400 mm x 1000 mm, oil on canvas. ©2011 Stephanie Benedict

Ironstone had invited artists in the show to give demonstrations, set up booths, or paint on the grounds during the day. A handful of artists accepted, including me. I spent most of the afternoon out by their lake, listening to a flock of Canada geese squabble and painting. That one, though, turned out rather poorly (and that’s being kind).

I kept wondering why they were holding this “Spring Obsession” reception in March, when the vines haven’t even leafed out yet. The answer, it seems, is that this is the traditional time for the banks of daffodils at the winery to be in bloom. But we’ve had such a weird year again that the flowers haven’t really bloomed yet. I fear this weather is the new normal. There were some banks of daffodils in bloom, but most of them were in pots by the entrance to the winery.

Ironstone Vineyards Entrance
The entrance to the winery tasting room and museum. Not too many flowers were in bloom yet in March.

The show is a very nice one. I’m honored to have been given a prize among the high caliber of company. You can see a sampling of the work at Ironstone’s blog.

Spring Obsession will be on display through Mother’s Day. I hope that, if you’re in the area, you’ll stop by to see it.

And, by the way, I recommend their sparkling wine (California champagne). According to their website, it’s made with French Colombard grapes, rather than the more traditional chardonnay grapes. So it’s a little bit fruity, but it’s complex and refreshing. I give it five on the “yum” scale: yum yum yum yum yum.



Red at the B Street Theatre: Four Stars

When I studied drawing with Dan Samborski at American River College, I had an ongoing argument with him (conducted almost entirely in my own head) about what constituted good art. Not well executed: good. Meaningful. Worthwhile. Samborski’s tastes run to post-modern, and I am far more traditional. He talked quite a bit about 20th Century American painters; about modernism, postmodernism, and how passé Impressionism’s “purple shadows” are; about meaning and the impulse to create; about what the artist was trying to express. It was good stuff, and my silent argument with my teacher energized me long after I completed his classes.

Mark Rothko No.14 San Francsico Museum of Modern Art
Mark Rothko, No. 14, 1960, 1960; painting; oil on canvas, 114 1/2 in. x 105 5/8 in. (290.83 cm x 268.29 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Helen Crocker Russell Fund purchase; © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Samborski’s words came flooding back to me as I watched the B Street Theatre’s production of Red by John Logan on Saturday night. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play of 2010, Red focuses on artist Mark Rothko in about 1958, as he worked on a series of paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. The play is an interpretation of Rothko’s struggle about whether his own work was meaningful art or commodity. Rothko is hugely self-absorbed, but eventually admits to his assistant, Ken, his fears of dying and, in the words written on the wall in the Book of Daniel, of being “weighed in the balance and … found wanting.” (Isn’t that what we all fear?)

This two-person play is a brilliantly conceived and, in the B Street production, finely executed portrayal of both the art world in transition and an individual artist’s struggle to make the work all it can be: to engage the viewer, to resonate emotionally, to communicate—something. The conversations between Rothko and Ken swirl around and through vast territories of human experience, from what they teach in art school nowadays to murder. Meanwhile, the action on stage (such as it is) revolves around the everyday acts of stretching canvas, mixing colors, getting Chinese takeout. One of the plays lightest scenes comes as the two prime a large canvas together, to music (Handel, I think).

One of Samborski’s contentions was that few movies (or, by extension, plays) capture at all well what it’s really like to be an artist, to create for a living. On that point I agree with him. Happily, profoundly, Red is an exception: it fiercely captures both the mundaneness of studio work and the feeling of, in Samborski’s words, “walking on ball bearings” as one brings each piece to life and imbues it with one’s hopes and fears for its existence, even as the world marches on.

The B Street Theatre’s production, featuring Brian Dykstra portrays Mark Rothko and David McElwee as Ken, is definitely worth seeing. Red runs through September 22. Four stars.


Redemption Value

You’d never think of plastic bottles as the basis for an art exhibition, would you? Water bottles, bleach bottles, soda bottles—all those bottles you know you ought to put into the recycling (and perhaps you do). Well, think again.

Redemption Garden: a Lakeside Artists Open Studio Collaboration, now on view at the SMUD Gallery in Sacramento, is a fascinating and surprising flower garden made of old plastic bottles, painted and then split open and recombined to make flowers. Lots of flowers. About 2,000 flowers. The Open Studio “planted” their flowers on panels grouped by color, and the result is a rainbow effect from red and orange to purple.

Redemption Garden by Open Studio Artists at Lakeside
Redemption Garden panels at the SMUD Gallery in Sacramento. Photographed by permission, by Stephanie Benedict

And it’s surprisingly delightful. I say “surprisingly” because plastic is not my favorite medium—but this exhibition really is a treat. The garden panels are hung in series for the viewer to stroll by, but I wanted to immerse myself in the colors. The panels are not monochromes, but very sophisticated and subtle shadings of color, accented with complements or analogous colors.

And the SMUD Gallery’s open, airy space is the perfect venue for this collaborative art exhibition. It’s actually the lobby of the SMUD customer service center, a venue used for display of public art.

The artists are members of a group called Open Studio: “a community of artists of all types and ages who create together,” as they say on their blog. The work was originally part of an Easter display at a local church, and has been enhanced and enlarged for the new space. At the opening reception, they were encouraging visitors to make their own flowers. While yours truly did not, it was fun to watch others try.

Raw Materials for the Redemption Garden
Painted plastic bottles to turn into flowers. Photo by Stephanie Benedict
An example flower made from painted plastic bottles
An example flower made from old plastic bottles. Photo by Stephanie Benedict

Redemption Garden: a Lakeside Artists Open Studio Collaboration runs through July 31, 2012, at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, 6301 S Street, Sacramento. Gallery hours are Monday–F, 8:00–5:00. The SMUD Art Gallery is a partnership between SMUD and the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

I may never look at a plastic bottle the same way again! What about you?