While much of the world’s people are staying inside their homes to prevent the spread of the COVID-9 virus, Napa’s artists are quietly creating art. This is the sixth in a series about what local artists are doing during this unprecedented time.
The social distancing over the last few months has changed the way Dennis Smith views his work.
Before the pandemic, Smith interacted with other artists through art classes and by working at two co-operative galleries, Napa Valley Art Gallery and Gallery 621 in Benicia, which gave him an opportunity to review his work and get feedback.
He has become more introspective. His current work is entirely self-generated and self-critiqued because there are no interactions with other artists other than Zoom meetings.
“This has helped me focus on my style of painting. And because of that I have narrowed my style to a very defined technique,” Smith said. “Now the process that I use to paint my images is very consistent, much more so than prior to lockdown.”
Smith has worked with a plethora of media – pen and ink, pencil, pastel, watercolor, acrylic and oil. For years, he painted images that varied greatly from one painting to the next.
“I would do an abstract, then a landscape or a portrait,” he said.
Recently, Smith has spent his time doing a series of oil paintings of San Francisco cityscapes in his home studio and has 20 paintings to show for it.
“In the shelter-in-place, I guess I gravitated to my true comfort zone,” Smith said.
In spite of being an architect and working in San Francisco for 50 years, Smith didn’t paint his first cityscape until three years ago – and that was of New York.
“People often ask how long it takes to do a painting,” Smith said. “My usual answer is ‘a few days and 40 years.’ So, get started painting and then don’t stop. It takes a while.
“I enjoy doing art and I hope that people enjoy seeing and owning the art,” he said. “There is not a room in my house that has a blank wall, which I very much enjoy.”
“People who have purchased my art frequently refer others to me and I enjoying helping a client find a piece that fits perfectly with their desires.”
Smith manages to find silver linings in storm clouds. Over the last few months he has been challenged to shop for supplies but not being able to easily buy new canvases has created an opportunity.
“I had a series of figure paintings that I had done many years ago that I wasn’t happy with – they were not up to my current standards,” he said. “I decided to paint over them.”
“The old images provided a background for my new paintings,” he said. “I have found that I enjoy this new challenge of integrating old images to provide some, but not too much texture and character for the new paintings.”
Smith urges fellow artists to do the same.
“Don’t throw away your pieces,” he said. “Save them and repaint. Like many of the Renaissance artists, a hundred years from now, someone will X-ray your painting and find a new (old) one underneath.”
Smith has found another advantage in saving the old paintings. During Open Studios last year, he discovered that many clients who visited his studio were interested in his older work.
“Times change, and people’s interests and tastes change,” he said.
Smith likes to joke about the role his art studio plays in his domestic life.
“I am blessed to have a very nice studio on the property. My wife has said that the studio and my maniacal painting have saved our marriage,” he said, laughing.
With fewer distractions these days, Smith’s attention to nature and the wildlife in his yard has grown keener.
“Where we live is quieter than before and the birds sing louder than before,” he said.
To see Smith’s work, go to CarnerosStudio.com or Instagram at dennissmith 9605. Smith posts all his current paintings (374, so far) on Instagram.
— Marcia Garcia
Sheltering-in-place guidelines led to cancellations and postponements of a number of art shows Marcia Garcia was planning on participating in as well as her travel plans, but it hasn’t stopped her from making baskets so unique that each one has its own name.
Garcia began making hand-coiled and beaded fabric baskets several years ago after retiring from a 34-year career as a high school English teacher.
“Since our travel plans this year were cancelled, I’ve been more mindful of what ‘home’ really means,” Garcia said.
She has created a number of baskets that she jokingly refers to as her Quarantine Collection.
Her Quarantine Collection includes a basket with pale greens and white named “Shelter in Peace.” A deep green basket with hints of amber and orange and a Zuni-style stone bear from New Mexico is named “Cabin Fever.”
“Serenity” is a basket with a soft sand color with aqua. “Heart Safe” is basket made in two pieces that appears to be pottery.
“I’ve also tried to have some fun with the names and, thanks to my husband’s sense of humor, created a basket using green fabrics and a pea-pod charm named “Shelter in Peas,” she said. “It has a pea-pod hand beaded in the bottom of the basket as well.”
Garcia and her husband frequently travel, and during their travels she “collects” things that later become the focal point of a basket.
On a trip to the Scottish Highlands last September, Garcia purchased several hand-made pottery buttons on the Orkney Islands.
In addition, she collected small pieces of driftwood near a boat launch at Loch Lomond. These were used on a basket titled “Outlander” in colors that evoked the Highlands.
“I have decorated baskets with grape vine tendrils from Italy and Germany, shells from the southern coast of Portugal, and pieces of glass from Spain,” she said.
Garcia explained that the creating of a basket begins with cotton-wrapped clothesline. The cord is hand-wrapped and glued using “only fine quality batik quilting fabric.
“Some of it is hand-dyed, which I hand-wash, press and cut into three-fourths inch strips using a rotary quilting cutter,” Garcia said.
Detailed bead work can be seen in the bottom of each basket and as a finishing edge to each creation. She often uses objects from nature such as feathers, twigs from her apple trees or grape vines to decorate the baskets.
“The time invested in making a single basket ranges from 10 to 18 hours,” Garcia said.
Once a basket is completed, it is treated with Scotch Guard so that it may be spot cleaned if necessary.
Like everyone else, Garcia is looking forward to the day when the threat of COVID-19 disappears.
“When this is over, I would like to visit a museum and take a road trip,” she said.
“The biggest challenge for many of us has been not being able to just go somewhere that didn’t involve looking for toilet paper,” Garcia said. “Our daughter is a librarian in Virginia, and we would love to visit her.”
She gained some insights over the last few months.
“I’ve been able to reflect on how little I need to be happy and comfortable,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s baskets can be found at Jessel Gallery.
— Geoff Hansen
Geoff Hansen suddenly had spare time. Three art shows were canceled as well as Arts Council and Art Association meetings and the “Art Gallery” was closed.
“That’s a lot of time to have on one’s hands,” Hansen said. “I’ve been trying to use it effectively.”
He has devoted much of the extra time that sheltering in place gave him to upgrading his photography skills.
Since retiring from a 40-year career in law and moving to Napa, Hansen has committed himself to professional landscape photography, featuring the places he and his wife discover on their travels as well as the “sublime beauty” of the Napa Valley.
The first step he took to enhance his photographic skills was taking an online course to improve his Photoshop skills.
Then, Hansen went through his images, sorting, reorganizing and cataloging.
“I re-edited some of my older images, using Photoshop with a few new tricks that I have learned in the workshop,” Hansen said.
One result of Hansen’s new Photoshop skills is a photograph he took in Antelope Canyon in Arizona in 2018.
“I had never edited the file because I felt there was no way that it would produce an image meeting my standards,” Hansen said. “Through a series of different layers and masks, I was able to bring out both the highlights and shadows in what I now consider to be a pretty nice photograph.”
“Until Shelter in Place came into being, I simply did not have the time to give this image the work it deserved,” he said.
Using his newly acquired Photoshop techniques and having the time available, Hansen also re-edited an overlooked file from a trip to Death Valley taken last November and was able to create an image that he is “quite happy with.”
Hansen has been exploring the area close to his home to discover interesting images that he might have overlooked before.
Also, he is getting into portraiture.
“I haven’t ventured much into portraiture, but the downtime associated with shelter in place orders has allowed me to work on lighting and exposure techniques,” Hansen said.
In doing portraiture photography for his grandson Hansen said that he used a 200-millimeter telephoto lens “consistent with social distancing.”
Not all Hansen’s spare time has gone into photography. He has been training the couple’s new puppy, a five-month old English Cream Golden Retriever named Duncan.
In addition, he is working on his fly rod casting skills out on the lawn to be ready to “hit the streams in a few weeks.”
“I’m also tying lots of new flies for the upcoming trout season,” Hansen said.
During this time, Hansen has also been trying to learn to play the ukulele.
“Sadly, my ukulele playing is not improving all that much but I’m still trying,” Hansen said. “I’m taking another shot at learning to play the ukulele, this time with a book and a video course by Jake Shimabukuro.”
“When staying home for extended periods, it’s not all that hard to keep busy,” Hansen said.
To see Hansen’s photography, go to www.geoffhansen.photography or Instagram: @napavalleyimages.
“When this is over, I would like to visit a museum and take a road trip.”
Stay up-to-date on what's happening
Receive the latest in local entertainment news in your inbox weekly!