Valley in Focus at Carnegie Arts Center
BY ALEX CANTATORE
You grow accustomed to certain landscapes, growing up in the central valley: freshly plowed fields with even mounds of dirt, orchards with row after row of identical trees, and golden foothills golden foothills punctuated by deep green trees.
It’s those landscapes that are brought into focus at a new exhibit in Turlock’s Carnegie Arts Center.
“You can’t escape those kinds of vistas in the valley,” Carnegie Arts Center Director Lisa McDermott says as she points to the works lining the Ferrari Gallery.
The exhibit, Valley Focus, contrasts the paintings of Modesto artist Chella and the photographs of Stockton’s Dan Kasser. Both have made their names by detailing the landscapes of California’s great valley – and through their teaching.
But there’s something off about these typical vistas.
Take Kasser’s photograph of a verdant farm near Patterson. There, right in the middle of the field, sits an impossibly massive shovelhead, probably five stories tall. It’s part of a series called “Western Technosites,” a collection of pickaxes, tilling discs, and sprinkler heads inserted into the landscape that they shaped.
Chella’s work also traces the evolution of the landscape, but at a slower pace. Her luscious oil paintings, produced en plein air, capture individual moments, effects, and places that no longer exist in this ever-shifting valley.
McDermott admits she was a little concerned that Valley Focus would come together, at first. Just try to visualize it: an exhibit that joins pastoral oil paintings with boundary-pushing digital photography.
“I don’t know if I would have seen the intersection myself,” McDermott said.
But it was time to try something new. The typical “Distinguished Artist” exhibit from this time of year was in need of a refresh, so McDermott created a gallery committee, and the idea of Valley Focus arose. The new, recurring spring exhibit will highlight a group of local artists linked together by some common thread.
Chella and Kasser immediately came to mind for this first Valley Focus. The common thread? Both are long- time educators; Chella taught art in Modesto city schools for 20-plus years, while Kasser is a Visual Arts Professor at the University of the Pacific.
That background as an educator informs an artist’s oeuvre, McDermott said.
Sure, Chella and Kasser have very different artistic styles. They work in different mediums. But both artists explore themselves, and their environment, through their art.
“The thing that distinguishes them, like all teachers, is a willingness to experiment for themselves,” McDermott said.
That sense of experimentation is on full display at the Carnegie Arts Center. Impressionist splashes of color and striking color block prints and bear little resemblance to Chella’s famed en plein air oil works, but they are still undeniably her own. Kasser’s photography evolves before a visitor’s eye, from early work focusing on artifacts in New Mexico, to landscapes, to merging both together in an interesting way.
“It’s not the only way to do it,” McDermtt said. “It’s not perfect. It’s one way of approaching the idea.”
Chella and Kasser’s own experimentation is a good lesson for their students, McDermott says. It teaches these impressionable young minds – and guests at the Carnegie Arts Center – to constantly re-examine both themselves and the world.
“They don’t want to create ‘mini-mes.’” McDermott said. “They want to open the door.”
The Carnegie Arts Center is located at 250 N. Broadway Ave., Turlock. The Valley Focus exhibit runs through March 22, the same day as an in- gallery talk with the artists.