Secret Neighbors – gallery show open through September 28
When one from Redding wants to see Contemporary Art, they make the 3-4 hour drive to the Bay Area to the galleries and museums there. I doubt that they would think to drive an hour in the opposite direction up I-5 to the mountains of Siskiyou County. Surprisingly though they could encounter a selection of artists whose work is as contemporary as the work one would find in the Bay Area or any urban Art center. Secret Neighbors is a show of three such artists who reside in the middle of ranching and forest environs in one California’s least populated and largest counties.
We could all agree that one wouldn’t move to a place like Siskiyou County to launch a creative career, in reality it could result in quite the opposite. Ironically though, Mount Shasta was a destination for many a 19th century painters who were eager to add images of the mountain to their canvas. Neither of these three artists lug their canvas and paints around the forest to catch such a splendid view as their predecessors did in the 1800s, but their work is firmly rooted in the development of art during 20th century.
Siskiyou County, Alta California, the true north, is not an easy place. The beauty and mystery of the landscape combined with the complexity of it’s history and contemporary social relationships produce a dynamic where veins of creativity flourish. But the same tension that stirs creation, can also stifles expression. To make and share art in Siskiyou is to be constantly caught between a rock and a hard place, a place where there is no comfort for artistic norms but one of few places where pure alchemy can happen.
Oliver has family roots in the area which go back to the early 1900s when his mother’s family came to work at the Weed Lumber mill. Reared in the Bay Area but moving around to New Mexico, New York and Spain, he eventually moved back to the area to take a teaching job at Southern Oregon University. That’s where he met Kim Presley in 2006, a Yreka resident who traveled to Ashland for art classes. Wareham was a fixture in the Bay Area arts but, after a divorce and the rising rents, looked north for space to create his large steel sculptures and purchased an old dairy in Big Springs.
In 2008, Presley spearheaded the opening of a community gallery Liberty Arts, in Yreka. Oliver participated as an original board member and help select the first six shows in which Wareham was one of the exhibiting artists.
Watching her help tend her small ranch, Presley’s neighbors would be surprised with what she does in her modest studio. Closely aligned with artists from the 80s, the conceptual and political works Presley creates are one-of-a-kind, addressing issues or ideas that she feels pulled to. Oliver is mostly known to his peers as a filmmaker in the area for his documentaries on the environment and Siskiyou County history but has returned to his love of painting. His current work is a blending of language and color which won him the Best of Show at this year’s West Coast Biennial. Wareham, who has been a long-time creator of large-scale steel sculptures, has installed many around his spacious studio and grounds in Big Springs. He is also a two-dimensional artist with roots in the modernist traditions of painting. In this show, he has taken a departure from steel to work in a less labor demanding media-cardboard.