The unassuming doorway on First Street next to Sutty’s opens to a long stairway leading to Sellars Project Space, where the gallery’s latest exhibit, Sculptures by B Strawn, awaits. Even before reaching the second floor, art patrons ascending the stairs will see Strawn’s “Robust Angel,” a construction of curved wood framing overlaid with thin wooden slats and painted in orange and yellow hues. The visual suggests the wings of a swallowtail butterfly or, as the title indicates, angel wings.
Strawn said her latest exhibit encompasses four main themes – fans, kimonos, scepters and flyers – and she will attend an artist reception as the guest of honor at Sellars Project Space from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11.
The fan and kimono pieces are among Strawn’s newest creations. She joined several wedge-shaped pieces of wood to create fan forms in some of the pieces but employed a fan-shaped stencil to paint the fan shape on others, sometimes covering the edges of existing paintings to create an entirely different effect. While Strawn applied vivid colors to some of the pieces, she left the more muted natural hues and patterns of aged wood in others.
“Wood is my medium” Strawn said, including old cedar planks in one piece, while another, “The Plow that Broke the Plains,” incorporates a deeply weathered plow handle and the charred lid of a whiskey barrel. “I’m interested in forms,” Strawn said, “not just the traditional squares or rectangles” and in exploring the spaces within the shapes. “Different shapes create a different format.”
The variation between painted colors and natural tones continues throughout Strawn’s themes as well as through the exhibit as a whole, including pieces that Strawn painted and then partially removed the paint to reveal the patterns of the wood grain.
She described some of the Asian influences in her work, Japanese artist Sabro Hasegawa in particular. The Encyclopedia of Asian American Artists describes Hasegawa as “a preeminent artist and scholar at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the mid-twentieth century.”
Strawn’s husband, Mel, studied under Hasegawa at California College of Arts and Crafts in the Bay area, where Mel and Bernice met, and while Hasegawa died after teaching there for only two years, he has remained an important influence in the work of both Strawns. Collaborative pieces in the exhibit include Mel’s calligraphy, which he learned, in part, from Hasegawa.
Strawn’s flyer-themed pieces include “model airplane type things … made for women.” “Boat Totem,” which incorporates goat skin, gold leaf and wooden “wings,” belongs in this category, and Strawn suggested she might go back to making “winged things. … I wore myself out on fans.”
Also on display at Sellars Project Space is Responding, a book with prints of Strawn’s art and written responses to the art by Sue Mills. “Everyone reacts differently to a piece of art,” Strawn said. “You should honor your ability to do that. It’s informed by your own experiences. … It’s about letting the art pull out of you strong experiences you’ve had in your own life.”
Strawn’s exhibit will remain on display at Sellars Project Space through March 6. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.