When discussing Art About Agriculture (in its eighth year) currently on display at the Santa Paula Art Museum, it is important to mention how art functions to educate the citizenry — children and adults — to the importance of agriculture in our lives, the beauty of rural landscapes and the awareness of where our food comes from. Many school groups tour the exhibit, and videos depicting artists and farmers discussing specific paintings go out to schools.
Co-curated by painter Gail Pidduck and photographer John Nichols, from the beginning (as is demonstrated vividly this year) it was clear that having a particular theme attracts differing media and styles of art. As Nichols observed, “The curator has a palette just as a painter does; curating is an art form.” Art about Agriculture is also art about art.
Most but not all of the works are landscape, still life or portraits in a range of mediums and styles. Two abstract impressionist paintings stand out. German born Sigrid Orlet’s “Roots” is mixed-media on two large canvas panels, including burlap shreds that dangle down like roots against a textured background of brown on brown. Clay White’s “Art I Choke Heart” is even less representational except for some artichoke greens in the bright swirl of mixed media on a metal bird-cage liner. White is schooled in various movements such as neuro-kinetics and choreography, and he explains that his art “articulates the abstract through the art of movement.”
Juan Carlos Gonzalez’s “Milking the Cows on My Ranch” also has lots of movement. In this charming folk art oil on canvas, dogs, donkeys and people mill around the barnyard where cows are being caught and milked without benefit of stanchions and modern equipment. Turbulent clouds overhead suggest a storm blowing in. While Gonzalez gets his inspiration from memories of the ranch where he grew up in Mexico, many of the other artists reward the viewer with familiar landscapes near Santa Paula and Ojai and throughout Ventura County. Kathy Ikerd’s “A Glorious Day” presents familiar fields with hoop houses and Ventura’s two iconic trees atop the hill in the distance. Susan Guy, a committed plein aire (open air) painter, perched her easel in the hills while painting “Ojai Valley Orange,” a brilliant burst of impressionist landscape.
Among many fine watercolors, Gail Faulkner’s still life “Lemons and Gingko” is so meticulously rendered that it is hard to believe it is a watercolor. And of the photographs exhibited, Michael Woods’ “Bantali Tree” is particularly striking with its stark composition of lines of field boundaries leading toward the old tree in the center. The sculptures and assemblages in this show are delightful. Valerie Freeman’s goats in luster ceramic stoneware have the same power to evoke joyful emotion that real goats have. One pair, titled “Affinity,” depicts the goats at rest, backs toward each other but clearly keeping company.
The curator’s palette has been a richly varied one. Nichols also referenced the “OTC” tradition in American art history. In response to quizzical looks, he explained “Over the Couch.” All of the art in this excellent exhibit is for sale except, of course, those works that have already been purchased.
Art about Agriculture through Jan. 31 at the Santa Paula Art Museum, 117 N. 10th St., Santa Paula. For more information visit www.santapaulaartmuseum.org.