‘This Place’ at Berkeley Art Center celebrates familiarity of Northern California landscapes

Erin Haar/Staff

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Northern California is a vibrant space. It is wildly human — and somehow familiar even to strangers. “This Place,” curated by Maria Porges, is a charming endeavor presented by the Berkeley Art Center to capture the local colors of the Bay Area.

Porges selected seven out of 180 artists who submitted artworks to the BAC Artists Annual Exhibition, an exciting opportunity for artists to present their works for public attention and appraisal.

“The work of each of the seven artists in this show demonstrates a connection to the unique landscapes of Northern California, whether urban, suburban or pastoral,” Porges said in a press release from the Berkeley Art Center.

As the title suggests, “This Place” is a local palette for Northern California. All of the artworks share the common goal of documenting the nooks and crannies of the geographic region in varying interpretations. In working toward this goal, the seven artists present a conglomerate of media: painting, printmaking, drawing, etching, digital prints, painted film and more.

Despite the common connection to the Bay Area, some pieces stand out more than others. A quintet of bright, cheerful acrylic paintings done by Nancy Mona Russell is notable for its collective abstract style and loose arrangement of recurring colors. Timothea Campbell’s monochromatic renderings of tangled trees introduce an interesting aspect of landscape printmaking. The works of Shelley Hoyt present the most familiar Berkeley landscapes, such as César Chávez Park and the Rose Garden, but their temporal portrayals exude a unique hint of evanescence and a fleeting sentimentality.

But the most memorable pieces were by Jeannie O’Connor, a local artist and UC Berkeley Master of Fine Arts program graduate who uses interesting mediums to produce colorful renditions of California views. What appear to be indexical snapshots of landscapes are actually beautifully contrived collages on clear film photographs, which are then adorned with paint and pastel. By adding her own touch to these emanations of reality, she delicately embraces the decorative.

O’Connor’s presentations do more than just please the eye. They also function as an artistic reflection of the widespread gentrification of urban landscapes in Northern California, with lands undergoing constant transformations and transmutations. Several buildings and walls awaiting makeovers are furbished with graffiti, layers of paint and murals.

Erin Haar/Staff

Erin Haar/Staff

Instead of finding these elements intrusive on the space, O’Connor regards them as transitional endeavors that document moments of change. She adds her own mark on these structures — or rather, photographs of them — painting, drawing and creating her own moments through art. Together, her works write the history of each place.

Despite their interest in the same site, the pieces in “This Place” differ vastly in style, subject and tone. There is an entire spectrum of mediums and sentiments that are condensed into a single space, where some might find it to be discordant or incongruous. But Northern California is just that: discordant and incongruous, thriving in its diversity. Ultimately, the variations in creative ideologies reflect the celebrated heterogeneity of each local community within the region. The exhibit is a testament that everyone experiences every day differently, even in the same place.

In most artworks, site specificity influences artistic directives. In “This Place,” site specificity — the trees, the buildings, the people and all of the elements of Northern California — is the directive. The artists’ endearing depictions of Californian moments linger far beyond the simple walls of the small gallery nestled in Berkeley.

“This Place” will be running at the Berkeley Art Center through March 4.

Jennifer Jeong covers visual art. Contact her at [email protected].