Editor’s Note: October offers a feast for the eyes with hundreds of artists opening doors and welcoming crowds. In our Art Issue, we spotlight the head-turning, downright creative works featured all around the county, beginning with Cabrillo Gallery’s new, month-long exhibit dubbed “Visually Invisible.” Beyond that, take note of two Open Studios artists that captured our attention, too. But there are so many others. Get out there. Look around. Embrace the creativity. Onward …
… Art: Out & Proud
For Santa Cruz, the thought of an art show focused on the idea of gender identity is not something that would cause most of us to bat an eyelid at, as would be the case in more conservative communities. But even for tolerant Santa Cruz, the topics of transgenderism and gender identity are still mainly shrouded in mystery and, sometimes, confusion. The new exhibit, “Visibly Invisible: Art and Transgender Subjectivity,” which is on display the entire month at the Cabrillo Gallery, strives to look at this unique minority group and unveil some of the truths behind the journey of a transgender person.
Jana Marcus, who wears myriad hats including working in marketing and communications at Cabrillo College and as a photographer whose award-winning photo documentary, “Transfigurations” is an integral contribution to the show, explains that Cabrillo is striving to create more of a presence within the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community. In fact, Marcus’ work, “Transfigurations,” may have helped set the ball rolling for this exhibit.
What the “Visibly Invisible: Art and Transgender Subjectivity” show is, exactly, is an exhibit that explores the themes of transgenderism and sexual politics through mediums including photography, film and video installations, paintings, drawings and sculpture.
Tobin Keller, longtime director and curator of the Cabrillo Gallery as well as an instructor at Cabrillo College, is pleased with the strong variety of artists that the show represents—five in all. “The exhibit crosses all boundaries,” he says.
In addition to the photography by Marcus, there are drawings and paintings by Cobi Moules that, Keller notes, are “very beautiful with a traditional focus. However the content and subject matter is not traditional.”
Then there are Maxx Sizeler’s shoe sculpture and installation work, which includes printmaking; Sheila Malone who does color photography and digital video installation; and a film by Shani Heckman called Wrong Bathroom.
Despite a growth in public awareness of the GLBT community in recent years, puzzlement still surrounds the topic of transgenderism and what it really means.
“Many people don’t understand who transgender people are,” says Marcus. “They are just considered a bunch of freaks. But awareness is about tolerance and breaking down stereotypes.” Marcus shares the story of how her interest in photographing this minority group began.
When she was in graduate school at San Jose State University in 2004, Marcus faced the daunting challenge of coming up with a senior thesis. “I’m a documentary photographer,” she says, “and, as with most of the things I end up photographing, I like to photograph things that I don’t understand.” While striving to attain her master’s degree, Marcus rented a room to a student attending UC Santa Cruz who was studying feminist theory.
“One night over cocktails he said that he had something he needed to tell me. He said, ‘I was a woman five years ago.’”
Confused, Marcus began to laugh because she says that the idea at the time was completely outside her realm of consciousness. “He shared his story with me and I was blown away,” she confides. “Transgenderism was a secret world that I had never heard of before and it inspired me to do my documentary, ‘Transfigurations.’”
Marcus hoped that by capturing the feelings of these people through pictures and words, she could discover what it means to be a man or a woman by people who are changing their genders. “Transfigurations,” as well as the “Visibly Invisible: Art and Transgender Subjectivity” exhibit, hopes to answer questions about transgenderism and what influenced the person’s decision to switch genders, what was guiding the person’s choice in terms of the role model of the kind of man or woman they wanted to become, and discovering the concepts of masculinity and femininity that are held by people who have chosen to change genders. Marcus’ photo documentary show “Transfigurations” has been touring universities across the country for five years and has been very successful, accumulating myriad accolades, but this is the first time it has returned to Santa Cruz since 2006.
Marcus is proud to share the limelight with other artists whose work focuses on transgender identity. “I think that with this particular subject matter the most hopeful thing that we can have is for people to walk away with a knowledge of a minority group that they did not have before,” she adds. “I hope people will learn something that they didn’t know about before seeing the exhibit.”
“To appreciate [the exhibit], it doesn’t really matter what your gender is,” Keller says. “These people are a significant part of our community who happen to be underappreciated and under exhibited. There are a lot of artists of all kinds, which is important for me as a curator to have represented. I want to provide students and our community with an educational and broadening experience.”
October is national GLBT history month, and Oct. 11 specifically is National Coming Out Day. To celebrate, Cabrillo plans to host a surprise event that day in addition to the month-long “Visibly Invisible: Art and Transgender Subjectivity” gallery exhibit. | Leslie Patrick
“Visibly Invisible: Art and Transgender Subjectivity” will be on display at the Cabrillo Gallery through Oct. 29 at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. The Cabrillo Gallery is located in the Library Building of Cabrillo College. Admission is free. Parking is located close by in most campus lots for the cost of $2, with metered parking in lot B.
When Painting Becomes Art
Open Studios artist David Fleming embraces the ‘work’
Much like the old woman who lived in a shoe, Santa Cruz artist David Fleming and his wife Jeanne share their average-sized home in Aptos with their 800 children—at least that’s what they call David’s vast collection of paintings.
A retired San Jose State University teacher who spent the majority of his youth designing cars for Ford, Porsche in Germany and General Motors—his most notable success being the rear-end of the ’69 Mustang—Fleming discovered his passion for painting 30 years ago and will open up his home to Open Studios for the 15th time in his career Oct. 16-17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Organized by the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, Open Studios is a self-guided art tour that gives art enthusiasts the opportunity to visit 300 studios during the first three weekends in October. For $20, anyone can purchase a 15-month Artist Guide/Calendar, which includes a map of Open Studios locations and contact information for artists such as Fleming.
Visitors to Fleming’s home gallery will have the opportunity to gaze at his enormous body of work made with oil paint which he creates by hand, charcoal, pastel, acrylic, water color, pen and ink. Influenced by painters such as Christopher Brown, Squeak Carnwath, David Hockney, Edward Hopper, Henri Matisse, as well as the Ashcan School and Max Beckmann, Fleming’s art incorporates his design background, his love of film noir, pulp fiction, political musings and appreciation for all things cheerful.
“Unlike many other artists, I paint in a lot of different styles and I like to work fast,” says Fleming, who typically spends one to four days on a painting depending on the size. “I need to experiment around rather than labor over one style for too long or else I get bored. A lot of times, I don’t have anything in mind and the painting just takes on a life of its own.”
As a result of that experimentation, Fleming’s paintings have a variety of subjects, from trains, to portraits, to landscapes, to the lives of working men and women. Inspiration for his paintings rarely comes from the same place, either. Occasionally, he paints photos that he has taken, while other times he recreates scenes from film or TV shows, images from the media, or simply works from his imagination.
“It stems from a basic sense of curiosity about what I can do and what something might look like as a painting,” says Fleming, whose collection is so expansive that he admits to forgetting about some of his earlier works and rediscovering them later. “I think painting is all about feeling and trial and error.”
With the Santa Cruz art community supporting his work, Fleming has felt not only welcome as a full-time painter, but also inspired by other local artists. He is personally looking forward to visiting the Open Studios of painters James McElheron and Jim Potterton, painter/photographer Sara Friedlander, mixed media specialist Dee Hooker and glass blower Peter Vizzusi.
Fleming’s own artistic range has provided him with the opportunity to showcase his work over the years at a number of venues between Big Sur and San Francisco, like Dancing Man Gallery, NIDO, Artists Alley, Los Robles Gallery and Santa Cruz Art League. Today, some of Fleming’s work is on display at Center Street Grill in Santa Cruz and he will have a landscape and still life display at Artisans Gallery on Pacific Avenue in November.
While the majority of his paintings are thought provoking and complex in design, others have a purely aesthetic purpose, particularly his collection of brightly colored florals. For Fleming, the subject, color scheme, emotion and overall impression of a canvas are completely dependent on his mood at the time of creation.
“Your attitude and frame of mind for the day are really influential in your art,” says Fleming, who flows freely between the use of stark detail for things like cobblestones and nearly translucent brush strokes for factory smoke. “If I’m energetic and well-rested, I’m more likely to paint boldly and take more chances. If I’m not in the right mindset, I might as well go outside and take a walk.”
Every once in a while, his inspiration becomes so intense that it drives him to paint multiple canvases as big as 4 feet by 4 feet, with a single unifying theme, such as ghosts flying over cityscapes, smoky Parisian bar scenes or dimly lit poker tournaments.
“Sometimes I’ll do a series based on an idea and won’t stop until I’ve exhausted myself of it,” he says. “In the bar paintings, I wanted to capture the isolation you feel when you walk into a bar filled with strangers, but sometimes my paintings are just happy, colorful and cheerful with not a lot of depth to them.”
Finding motivation did not always come naturally, however. When Fleming retired after teaching drawing, presentation, 2-D design and color for 35 years at SJSU, he made the mistake of thinking that it would be easy to transition into the lifestyle of a full-time painter.
“It was hard to get going,” says Fleming. “I started out slow, creating about one painting per month, then once I started liking the result, it got a lot easier. Now, I can’t stop; I just have to do it.”
But in his opinion, not every one of his imaginative creations can be qualified as art. If Fleming does not experience the thrill of painting something impactful, he does not believe that he has made something worthy of the title.
“It’s like pursuing magic—a painting doesn’t become art in my opinion until it reaches this magical phase,” says Fleming. “When it does, I get this kind of rush and the painting becomes art. That’s what it’s all about, pursuing that magical feeling.” | Jenna Brogan
For a sneak preview of David Fleming’s artwork, visit members.cruzio.com/~fleming/. Visit Fleming’s open studio at 218 Appleton Drive, Aptos, on Oct. 16-17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Twenty-five years ago—who would have known? Liz Lyons Friedman, a talented thirtysomething artist had just moved to Santa Cruz when she heard about the call for artists for Santa Cruz County’s first ever Open Studios. “I just wanted to move near the beach, and the beauty of the area,” says Friedman. Now, she’s being recognized in this year’s Open Studios as the only artist to have participated in the art tour every year since its inception, and, as a gesture of gratitude and recognition, she was asked to design the poster for this year’s program for the Cultural Council’s 25th anniversary of Open Studios.
“In the first year, I think there were less than 100 people,” Friedman recalls. “There was a catalog but not a calendar. Every artist had an image and a blurb, and there were maps. It started out in a similar way, but it’s expanded to become such a bigger event. … I saw Santa Cruz become a model for many other Open Studios along the way.”
Open Studios works like this: hundreds of artists across the county apply to be a part of this prestigious art tour. Three hundred of them were accepted for this year’s event, and, during the first three weekends in October, artists open their studios to the public. The first weekend in October showcases South County artists, the second weekend, Oct. 9 and 10, features North County artists, and the finale weekend, also called Encore Weekend, will take place Oct. 16 and 17, when the majority of the artists involved will open their studios for a second time this month in case you missed the first showing, or would like to return.
Friedman will be a part of the Encore Weekend, and those curious to see her linocut (print) work can swing by her studio at 3004 Vienna Pines Court, Aptos. Her boyfriend, John Gavrilis, is showcasing his work on the property as well. Gavrilis is a photographer.
For Friedman, this is her 25th time going through this process, and nothing is slowing her down. As a longtime local artist, she often sees up to 600 people come to visit her studio in a weekend. She and Gavrilis will set up an elaborate outdoor gallery, and offer refreshments. Friedman will have a large collection of prints on sale, with prices going from $50-$850. She offers small to large prints, and the majority of them feature people in the images. She calls this her “Celebration Series,” which she explains is a “celebration of friends and family, events, and people gathering together. … They’re all inspired from real events in my life.”
She carries a camera with her and snaps pictures whenever she sees something that could make a fascinating print. From there, she uses the photos as reference material, and then begins the lengthy and creatively satisfying experience of making a print. Nowadays, with myriad artistic mediums that are available, printmaking doesn’t seem quite as popular as it once was. However, it’s no dying art, and to watch the process of how it occurs, and to see the end product is inspiring. This realm of artistic work requires precision, massive talent, a fine eye, and a creative mind, as well as plenty of patience.
For the poster image that the Cultural Council used to promote Open Studios this year, Friedman spent about 60 hours on just the first step of creating the poster—carving into a linoleum block. From there, she continued to make small changes until her image was completed. After that, she ran it through a printmaking press that she has in her studio, and then the black and white image was developed. And then, finally, as she does with all her work, she incorporated color by way of using watercolor paint. In the end, the image turned out beautifully, and is called “Studios by the Sea.” It distinctly represents the beauty, diversity, and artistic nature of our community, thus representing the artists whose studios are indeed by the sea. Upon close inspection of the poster image, you can see the ocean, the Municipal Wharf, Holy Cross Church, the redwoods, an invite to Open Studios, plein aire painters, various studios, and myriad artistic mediums represented in the picture. It’s quite amazing to see Friedman’s final product, and it’s a testament to her talent and longevity as a local artist. | Christa Martin
Open Studios continues with North County studios during the weekend of Oct. 9 and 10, and the Encore Weekend Oct. 16 and 17. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit ccscc.org or call 475-9600. Open Studios calendar/artist guide sells for $20. Liz Lyons Friedman will be showing her prints alongside artist John Gavrilis during the Encore Weekend of Open Studios, on Oct. 16 and 17 at 3004 Vienna Pines Court, Aptos. For more information about Friedman, visit aptosartshoppe.com.