With its new round of winter/spring exhibitions, the Fresno Art Museum is taking flight.
I got the chance to preview three of the museum’s five new shows, which open Saturday, Jan. 27. There’s a lot to appreciate. From radiant depictions of birds in their natural habitats to an intimate series of portraits saluting immigrants, these new exhibitions can be startling, evocative, aesthetically impressive and infused with tenderness and meaning.
I’ll be writing about each of the exhibitions at greater length as they continue, but here’s a sneak peek.
In David Tomb’s “Rockfowl and Other Wonders,” the San Francisco artist transports the viewer to various locales around the world, all of them the homes of some of the rarest birds in the world. Tomb has had a fascination with nature and science ever since he was a kid, and he has managed in recent years to intertwine his fine-art skills with his love of nature. If “big” in art impresses you, chances are you’ll be amazed at the size alone of some of these works, including the centerpiece “Rockfowl” mixed-media piece, depicting a rainforest in Ghana, which at 27 feet wide and 11 feet tall makes you feel you’re about to enter a jungle.
In “Rockfowl,” the object of Tomb’s obsession was the elusive Picathartes, a beautiful bird with white necks and yellow heads that almost seem to tiptoe through the rainforest. It’s the type of bird that you have to sit on a rock perfectly still for hours to even get a chance of seeing. Tomb did just that, and his persistence paid off. He has a fascinating style: His paintings of birds are startlingly realistic, while the rest of the mixed-media tableau he creates, which includes three-dimensional butterflies and foliage, is much looser. The result is the artist’s impression of the habitat, which somehow comes across as packing a more powerful emotional punch than if it were just done straight documentary-style.
Michele Ellis Pracy curated the show.
I’m sure that birders — that dedicated segment of the population that scurries about the world in pursuit of glimpses of their feathered friends — will be fascinated with “Rockfowl and Other Wonders.” But so too will be anyone who’s spent a few quiet moments in a forest just watching birds in their intricate routines.
Salute to immigrants
“Immigrant Me” is a collection of 20 new works by the hard-working Fresno figure artist Marcos Dorado, who is known for his work in pencil. For years, Dorado has pushed himself to fine-tune his Old World skills of classical drawing, spending chunks of time in New York at the Art Students League of New York and Grand Central Academy.
Dorado’s latest show is intimate in scope, with the models for his portraits all people he knows and reached out to. Dorado himself is an immigrant from the Mexican state of Jalisco, and the largest number of subjects in the show are also from Mexico. But there are others from all over Latin America. To be a model for Dorado is a big investment in time: Some of these works took up to 30 hours of sitting time spread out over the period of a week for the subjects.
The result, the artist says, is an exhibition that stresses the “positive side of immigration.”
Dorado’s masterful technique is a highlight of the exhibition, of course. But his drawing skills are only part of the appeal, he hopes. Dorado is most looking forward to viewers reading the stories that accompany them.
Bay Area artist Holly Lane combines two genres — painting and sculpture — in a distinctive and memorable style. It’s a case in which a painting’s frame pretty much steals the show. To call these mere “frames,” in fact, seems like too modest a term. Lane carves wood by hand into elaborately detailed creations that seem architectural in nature compared to the two-dimensional paintings they enclose. (When I saw the first example, I thought for a moment I was looking at an antique wooden altar you might find in some Renaissance-era cathedral.)
The title of the show is “Indwelling Nature,” and it speaks to the idea that humanity and nature inhabit the same space, each providing the framework for how the other is perceived.
The museum hosts the 2018 Hanna S. Barsam Invitational, In recognition of the legacy of local photographer, a biennial exhibition in recognition of the legacy of the local photographer. Guest curated by Jay Belloli, former director of the gallery programs at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, the theme is “California Nature.”
The viewer decides
In “Untitled,” curator Sarah Vargas brings together works from the museum’s permanent collection that artists chose not to title. What do each of the images mean? That is for you to decide.
Preview: Curator and artist talks in the Bonner Auditorium, 4-6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26. A reception with no-host bar and hearty appetizers follows 6-8 p.m. Free to members, $15 for non-members. (No passes accepted for this event.)
Opening: 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 27. The Fresno Art Museum is located at 2233 N. First St., Fresno. The exhibitions continue through June 10.
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