St. Helena artist Nancy Willis began collecting images from the World Trade Center bombings and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when she started to feel uneasy about the beauty of her own home in the often idyllic Napa Valley. 

“I was simultaneously feeling distanced but still connected to what was happening in other parts of the world,” Willis said. “I create beauty in my work and live surrounded by the splendor of nature.”

This formed a haunting contrast with images of war and destruction from Sept. 11, 2001, suicide bombers and two ongoing wars. 

 “I began to question not only the beauty of where I live, but also the nature of beauty in my work in relation to the images of these bigger and distant events. I was looking to reconcile the discrepancy between the two and thought other artists must be feeling the same way.

“Collecting was the first step.” 

Two years later, with new explorations in paint and ink well under way, Willis wanted to see how other artists would visually respond to the same discrepancies. As a result, 25 California artists have created new works for Napa Valley Museum’s new exhibition “Discrepancy: Living Between War and Peace,” opening Friday. 

Willis is guest curator for the show, which opens a month before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Works in a variety of media create a visual survey about daily life and its connection to three major events: Sept. 11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three writers have created essays as part of the exhibit to provide a cultural context for the art.

“The artists were selected, in part, because I see an inherent sensitivity to beauty in their work,” Willis said.  “Many of them are breaking out of their comfort zone to create work about some very powerful events on a personal level. Sometimes that means looking at their work within a new context or overcoming the challenges of a difficult subject matter through metaphorical representation.”

Willis looked beyond the Napa Valley for a broader view of the artists’ community, as well as non-artist military representation to round out the view. 

Members of Pathway Home, a residential recovery program for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan at the Veterans Home of California at Yountville, have created masks and writings that reveal a glimpse into the powerful emotions that lie beneath their public identities. 

The museum is located on the grounds of the Veterans Home, and will donate a percentage of opening night admissions to the Pathway Home program. 

Willis also invited artists whose works range from the intimate watercolors of Helen Berggruen to the spectacle of Lewis deSoto’s car sculptures. 

A recurring theme involves the fragility of life. Oakland painter Hung Liu and Calistoga’s Arminee Chahbazian have pieces dealing with the natural world and the continuing cycle of life and spirituality. Sibylle Szaggars overlays hope on top of headlines in her large format mixed-media piece titled “Shedding Blood and Tears in Time of Hope.” 

Rob Keller will celebrate his birthday on Sept. 11 by handing out birthday cake to museum visitors, and Ann Trinca will have an interactive online blog. 

San Francisco artist Deborah Oropallo and Eleanor Coppola are both representing remembrance in two different formats, while Wendy Willis’ piece, “Ten, One Thousand,”  captures the heartbreaking aspects of the power of art to transcend events.

Events planned in conjunction with the show include a lecture by Amanda Badgett on Sept. 7, an art memorial activity presented in partnership with Nimbus Arts on Sept. 11, and a panel discussion with the writers and artists on Sept. 22. 

Napa Valley Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays and major holidays. For more information, call  944-0500 or visit napavalleymuseum.org

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