A glimpse at what's happening inside East Bay art studios.
Painter Stephanie Weber
What better way to appreciate the East Bay than to see it through the works of nationally renowned artists who live and work here. These painters, sculptors, and furniture- and jewelry-makers find inspiration throughout the area: not just in the gorgeous natural scenery, diverse culture, and thriving artists’ communities but in the high-tech environment that surrounds us. You can even bring their works home. Yes, if you’re feeling especially generous to yourself or a loved one this season, there’s no better gift than that of great local art. Here are some of our favorite practitioners.
Stephanie Weber creates works of simple color that pulsate with life. Although she studied with Richard Diebenkorn and other California art luminaries in the 1960s, her artistic hero is the great abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. Lately, the Berkeley artist has been applying her signature color stripes to locally manufactured aluminum plates used to construct airplane wings and the sides of skyscrapers. These plates, with their honeycomb surface, provide a canvas for translucent images that shimmer with the contrast of cool metal and warm color. “I fell in love with these plates,” she says. “They have this wonderful luminosity.… What really interests me is how the sheen and toughness of the metal whispers through the painting, sending out a crackling energy.”
For two decades, Deborah Oropallo has been pushing the boundaries of style, media, technology, and concepts of high and low art. For her latest paintings, the Berkeley artist uses the magic of digital photography to create provocative, multi layered portraits of women that are based on Internet ads selling sexual fantasy costumes. Some of these paintings merge the ads with elements of Renaissance portrait painting; others reduce the female figure to a few lines. Oropallo plays with the conventions of painting and Internet advertising to explore ideas about women, desire, power, and the commercialization of sex. She says that living close to the Silicon Valley has fueled her interest in how new media is changing our perceptions of the world. “My subject is the dot-com,” she says. “Paint gave way to pixels over a 20-year period of making art. This gradual shift has allowed me to cross this bridge between painting and conceptual art in a medium I continue to be very excited about.”
Studio Under Manufacture
Room dividers and bookshelves can do a lot more than rearrange space. That’s the view of Andre Caradec and Robert Fukuda at Studio Under Manufacture design studio in Oakland. They want their furnishings to represent a 21st century return to an old-world tradition of craftsmanship. Like others in the growing community of East Bay artisans, Caradec and Fukuda use new materials and technology to pioneer methods, adjust concepts as they go, and share what they’ve learned with colleagues. For this divider made of polycarbonate, a tough, pliable plastic used to make eyewear, they designed and tweaked their pattern on computers. They next made cuts into polycarbonate sheets and pressed and snapped the sheets together. Using computer software rather than sketchpads makes it easy to mass-produce future dividers or customize them for individual clients. “Many people see technology as alienating,” Caradec says. “We see it as offering a way of disseminating information, as a medium for a collaborative spirit with people, whether with our clients or other artists and architects.”
Growing up in Utah, April Higashi never felt like she fit the norm. Biracial and artistically inclined, Higashi says she has finally found her artistic home in the East Bay after an 18-year stint in San Francisco. “I feel like I have more spare time to think about my work versus being in the city where I was always stimulated by so many different things.” At her Shibumi studio and gallery near Berkeley’s Fourth Street, she crafts rings, pendants, and bracelets out of enamel, metal, and gems. With their simple lines and rough-hewn textures, the pieces are luxurious in an unpretentious East Bay way. “I love jewelry that is artful and wearable, organic but refined,” she says. “I like subtle beauty. My clients tend to be people who love quality and have an artistic eye, but do not desire flashy or bling.”
Eric Powell has more than 400 public and private commissions to his credit, so there is a good chance you have seen one of his metal works somewhere in the Bay Area. There is the entry gate leading into, of all places, the city of Berkeley’s Corporation Yard. This intricate steel gate uses the imagery of the mandala to depict the many aspects of the surrounding neighborhood. The gate’s dual purpose as gate and art represents Powell’s view that functional objects and materials such as steel and bronze can be imbued with beauty and feeling. “In making sculpture, gates, and furniture, I cross over the line of so-called function and non-function all the time,” says Powell, who attended the California College of the Arts and works out of a west Berkeley studio. “The difference between design and art is something to explore, not something to try to define.”