5 picks for November ArtHop: As 1821 Gallery bids adieu, a focus on Holly Downing
It’s a bittersweet ArtHop for Sonoma County-based artist Holly Downing. She’s thrilled to be opening a show at 1821 Gallery & Studios. But she is sad to be the final featured artist at the venue. Owner Bruce Kalkowski is closing the gallery at the end of the year.
“I’m always sad when galleries close,” she says.
Her show, titled “Paintings in Praise of Cultural Diversity,” is one of my picks for November ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods. It runs through Dec. 24. The Fresno Arts Council has an updated list of venues and shows.
First, let’s fill you in on the gallery closing.
Kalkowski turned 1821 into one of the most beautiful gallery spaces in Fresno, and he featured a steady stream of notable featured artists, both local and internationally renowned. Some of the most popular shows over the years included Michael Garcia, Dal Henderson, Robert Weibel, Larry Hill, Adam Longatti and Leslie Batty. He also brought in some wonderful out-of-town artists, such as the Italian-French painter Ivana Minafra, whose November 2018 show “Profondeurs” offered a distinctive view of California from a European perspective.
“It’s been an amazing experience having the privilege to work with so many creative individuals,” he says.
The decision to close the gallery is a personal one and not a reflection on downtown Fresno or a struggling business model, Kalkowski emphasizes.
“The gallery is having the best year ever, but it’s time,” he says. “We’ve put up over 80 shows along with plays, book signings, concerts ,poetry readings and receptions. That’s a lot of work for one person. It’s like when you get politely fired: ‘I’m giving myself the opportunity to explore other options.’ “
The gallery space will be up for lease, and he’s hoping the space can be used for a similar purpose.
I asked Kalkowski for his thoughts on the downtown Fresno arts scene.
“It’s certainly getting a lot of attention,” he says. “Obviously ArtHop is the biggest visual evidence of this. I feel we need to develop a bigger gallery and studio presence, however. It’s been proven that the community is willing to come downtown. Now we need to offer a quality experience. I think it’s time to establish a regional art festival perhaps in the Cultural Arts District Park, to start.”
Now, let’s move on to Downing’s show.
The artist is known for her mezzotint engravings. I first encountered them in a 2010 Fresno Art Museum exhibition of her work, which also featured small paintings. I wrote that I found myself pulled into their almost “misty confines”:
That soft, shadowy sensation transfers to Downing’s oil paintings for the show. While devoid of actual people, her work reflects the solid impact of human construction. There’s something wistful, mysterious — and perhaps even a little dangerous — about the dark shadows that spill out from Downing’s doorways and arches. Who knows what could be lurking just out of range?
In her new show at 1821, you will get to see some of these “Passageway” paintings of arches along with what she calls her textile and drapery paintings. Downing has long been fascinated with fabric as a cultural artifact.
She’s particularly drawn to the textiles created by indigenous craftspeople, such as the Quecha-speaking people of Peru. On a trip to Machu Pichu, she was mesmerized by the mantas, or capes, they made from llama wool colored with vegetable dyes. Textiles can be a sort of a window into the soul of a people, she believes.
Her art has taken her all over the world, from Nepal to Ghana, where she has continued to marvel at the beauty of indigenous textiles — and also at the way that indigenous peoples have a healthier relationship with the land.
“I realized a few years ago that the drapery – or textiles – from indigenous cultures could broaden the context to include my homage to their cultural value systems, which are most often sustainable and respectful of natural systems.”
As we talk by phone, I remark to Downing that hand-crafted items carry with them so much more cultural identity than the cheap, mass-produced clothing we’re awash in today. There’s a lot more meaning in a garment made in Nepal, say, than a $5 T-shirt you pick up at Fashion Fair.
She expands on that thought, but not in the direction I was expecting.
“I used to do a lot of sewing,” she says. “I like fabric. I guess I see all textiles — including Forever 21 blouses from China — they express our identity, and our values, and our culture.”
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How did she end up so interested in depicting textiles in paintings?
Part of it goes back to her college days at UC Santa Cruz, when a drawing instructor challenged her class to draw a fabric for a still life. She couldn’t do it and marveled when a classmate was able to quickly draw the drapes and folds of the fabric. In the years to come, she vowed to overcome the technical challenges and become an expert herself.
That she did. The technique and craftsmanship in her textile paintings is exquisite. And the show is a must-see, not just for the art but also the chance to say farewell to a notable Fresno gallery.
“I feel honored that I’m the last,” she says.
Robert Ogata at Fig Tree
“Chalk” is the latest exhibition from Robert Ogata, one of Fresno’s most acclaimed artists. For this show’s artistic statement, Ogata simply offers two quotations:
“Painting reminds me of what we don’t know, but we recognize as familiar.” — Squeak Carnwath
“Painting is always strongest when, in spite of composition, color. etc., it appears as a fact or an inevitability.” — Robert Rauschenberg
When paired with the work itself, those quotes make perfect sense.
Famed jazz drummer at ArtHop
What do you get when you pair local jazz greats Benjamin Boone on saxophone, Richard Giddens on bass and Craig von Berg on piano with LA-based drummer Jaz Sawyer?
A pretty amazing ArtHop experience.
The quartet will be featured 5-8 p.m. at Mariposa Plaza downtown, across Fulton Street from the Security Bank building.
Sawyer is featured on three of Wynton Marsalis’s CDs as well as many others, movie soundtracks and more, Boone tells me. Sawyer also is teaching part-time at Fresno State, which makes this “an all-Fresno State group,” he says.
‘Nudes’ at Sorensen
Nudes? In November? Actually, the weather is toasty enough this week that one could go sans clothing and not die of exposure. But the show “Nudes in November” is about the artwork. This annual juried show, open to all artists and media, is one of the most popular at Sorensen Studio and Galleries. (Wonder why?) The show celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.
Finally, CMAC Fest 19 includes music, food trucks, hands-on activities for the whole family and featured artist Ricky Hill, Jr. It runs from 5:30-9:30 p.m. and makes a perfect way to cap off an ArtHop evening.