The Nature Of Art
Painters Pam Takigawa and Jan Wagstaff draw different sustenance from the world around them.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
The Monterey Peninsula''s natural beauty has had a magnetic pull on artists since the late 19th century: rocky shores, majestic stands of trees, the silver light of the sea, the hearty flora imposing itself everywhere. Two of the many local artists who examine our regional nature and use its manifold faces as the source of their expressions are Carmel Valley artist Pam Takigawa, who studies samples from nature the way a botanist examines specimens; and Carmel artist Jan Wagstaff, who studies fragments of nature and extrapolates the parts into rigorous images that parallel nature''s drama. Takigawa''s work can be seen through July 18 at the Pacific Grove Art Center in an exhibition titled Contemplating Peace. Wagstaff, a member of the Carmel Art Association, has several examples of her work on display at the association''s Dolores Street gallery.
Both Takigawa and Wagstaff, artists working in diametrically opposed manners, reveal their precedents; their expressions connect them to one modern tradition or another. With Takigawa, nature is experienced like an Emily Dickinson poem, replete with quirky variations on accurate observation. One thinks of an intimate O''Keeffe who has opened a biology book for replenishment. Wagstaff, in contrast, takes nature fragments and works and reworks them until some truth is extracted. Like Jim Dine and his painted objects, it''s not the object depicted that is as important as its expressionistic interpretation.
Takigawa''s exhibition of watercolors reveals her straightforward approach to capturing the twisting lines, cups and curves of flowers, leaves, feathers and shells. In her tulips, calas, amaryllis, poppies and peonies, the focus is on direct observation and recording, but with her subtle compositional variations, an oblique narrative emerges. At times, the plant forms rise mid-stem from the bottom of the picture plane, suggesting a forest of them, or a world of them. In "Amaryllis II," for instance, with its empty background, the emphasis is on the subtle relationships among leaf and stem, blossom and bud, and the evoked bending toward the sunlight.
In other watercolors, Takigawa isolates the flower, leaves or feathers on an empty page, or groups individual forms sequentially across the picture plane, as in "Renewal." This is the artist as botanist, holding up the plant''s permutations before us lest we miss their subtle differences. Moreover, the artist has not avoided injecting personality into these flowers, as if in them she observes human characteristics. They dance; they stand tall; they declare their presence with aplomb.
It is telling that her show is titled Contemplating Peace. Painting during the weeks just before and after the US invasion of Iraq, the artist turned toward the benign force found in delicate stems, uplifting leaves, precious shells and airy feathers--a true balm for the pacifist reading the news.
Wagstaff''s painting has for several years been about a specific natural phenomenon: light on water and the interplay of submerged and reflected forms. Overhanging branches are mirrored on the water''s surface, and the tangle of reeds, branches and ripples in the water form painted moments of perception. Her paintings are not recordings at all, but rather collected events.
In a recent series, Wagstaff features birds. In "Up from the Water," the artist depicts a kite or hawk as it begins its rise with outstretched wings. In a flurry of painterly marks, the wings shatter the picture plane, but the close-up face of the bird is a study in dignified wildness, the terribly serene eye in the vortex. In "Heron," the full form of the bird pushes at the top and bottom of the picture plane, which is filled with fluid brush strokes suggesting water and the misty air, as well as the sea bird in all its fragile nobility.
Nature is the ultimate source acknowledged by Takigawa and Wagstaff in their different ways. In Takigawa''s watercolors, nature is precious, a delicate type of life she "captures" with the caress of a light brush. Wagstaff looks to nature as a source of drama--the splash of radiant light on rushing water, the flash of wings. She finds in nature the starting point in a painter''s journey of discovery. Hers is an open-ended approach, whereas Takigawa''s empirical, analytical approach always has the finished form for reference. The joy of art, as in nature, is our own discovery of its variations.