Many artists are inspired by the environments around them. For many artists, that environment is nature. The idea of nature being a source of art is the very premise for Arts Benicia’s newest exhibit, “Forma Natura.”
“Forma Natura” features a variety of works by seven different artists. The exhibit is co-curated by California College of the Arts professor Mark Eanes and Arts Benicia Exhibitions and Programs Manager Mary Shaw.
Shaw said plans for the exhibit stemmed from an idea to honor Arts Benicia artist Bea Guttman, who died last year.
“She was a pretty amazing painter all her life, and we wanted to honor her that way,” Shaw said. “We usually have multiple artists in exhibitions, and we had wanted to have an exhibition with her before she passed away, and unfortunately we were not able to make that happen.”
The exhibit was put on the back burner for about six months, Shaw said, but Eanes— who was a friend of Guttman’s— was instrumental in getting it back on track. The two were looking for an appropriate theme to honor Guttman as well as showcase the works of other artists. They settled on the idea of using nature as a source for creativity.
In his curatorial statement, Eanes said he had come across a catalogue for an art exhibit titled “Henry David Thoreau as a Source for Artistic Inspiration” while doing research for his statement. A leader of the 19th-century transcendentalist movement, Thoreau was the author of “Walden,” in which the author spent two months in a cabin and began to gain a better understanding of society by simply being out in nature.
“Thoreau was one of the first American ecologists to be sensitive to the impacts of the Industrial Revolution on human nature and our surroundings,” Eanes wrote. “Perhaps the most important feature in the life and writings of Thoreau for modern artists was his unbiased openness to the sights and sounds of the world around him.”
Much like Thoreau, seven Bay Area artists took cues from nature for their works. The exhibit features artwork from Guttman but also Mari Andrews, Timothy McDowell, Ann Hedges, Elizabeth McKinne, Kerry Vander Meer and Gina Telcocci. Not all of the artists reside in Benicia. Andrews resides in Emeryville, and McDowell and Hedges have studios in San Francisco but live in Connecticut and Fort Bragg, respectively.
Initially, Shaw and Eanes wanted four artists to provide two-dimensional paintings, but they decided they should have 3-D works as well. As a result, “Forma Natura” is a mix of paintings, drawings, sculptures and installation art all inspired by the common thread of nature. Ann Hedges’ exhibit even features a bundle of branches wrapped together and strips of birch bark lined up in a curve, essentially taking parts of nature and turning them into something new.
“When you’re looking at an exhibition, it’s important to have work that has conversations with each other,” Shaw said. “One thing talks to the other thing. There are relationships that are established between the artists’ work.”
Shaw and Eanes looked at a variety of works and chose the artists whose works complemented each other the best.
“These were the artists whose work was the strongest and really spoke with each other,” she said. “One thing you want in an exhibition is for the viewer to wonder about it, be open to it and bring their own experience to what they see.”
Shaw hopes the exhibit will be a good opportunity to expose viewers— and even fellow featured artists— to the talents of the Bay Area artists.
“Being advocates for the artists, we would like them to be aware of the artists’ work,” she said. “When they see their names, they will go see their work in some other location.”
She also believes that this exhibit will raise the bar for Arts Benicia by increasing the exposure of artists, broadening the organization’s base and raising the level of exhibits.
“Forma Natura” is on display at Arts Benicia, located at 991 Tyler St. Suite No. 114, through July 10. Admission is free. The gallery is open Wednesdays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. The opening reception, in which the artists will talk about their work and meet with community members, will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturday, June 18. This event is free and open to the public. Additionally, Family Art Day will be held from 1 to 3 p.m., Sunday, June 26. For more information, call the gallery at 747-0131.