“Story Painters” exhibit weaves visual tales

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Oakland artist Squeak Carnwath uses recurring symbols such as vinyl records, Roman vases and…

BEDFORD GALLERY curator Carrie Lederer long has been interested in how artists tell stories.

So when she came across the work of noted Bay Area artists Hung Liu, Squeak Carnwath and Inez Storer, three painters who weave elements of personal history into their art, Lederer saw a golden opportunity. She could organize a show exploring the ways artists tell stories and introduce viewers to three highly accomplished artists living and working in what Lederer calls “our Bay Area backyard.”

The result is “Story Painters,” an exhibit featuring 75 paintings, drawings, collages, tapestries and prints, including a few never-before-seen works and a handful of Liu’s paintings making their West Coast debut. Spanning roughly 10 years of their careers, the show looks at how the artists mine their lives for the raw material for their art.

To help provide a little insight, Lederer, in a brilliant move, has filled four glass cases with sketchbooks, mementos and ephemera she saw during visits to each artist’s studio. They provide a rare look at the visual vocabularies at the heart of Liu’s, Carnwath’s and Storer’s works.

Although their names might be unfamiliar to some, Liu, Carnwath and Storer are well-known in the art world.

Liu is a professor of art at Mills College in Oakland and a highly respected painter whose work is steeped in the history and culture of her native China. Represented by galleries on the


East and West coasts, Liu’s paintings and prints are in the collections of major museums such as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her murals and public art can be found around the Bay Area, including at the Oakland Airport.

Carnwath, whose works combine text, symbols and colorful shapes, teaches at UC Berkeley and keeps her studio in the East Bay. Last year, she was the subject of a major retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California.

Storer, who lives in Inverness and works in Point Reyes Station, creates surreal, dreamlike art based on memory and chance. It can be found in the permanent collections of numerous Bay Area museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Oakland Museum.

While their backgrounds vary wildly in terms of geography and life experience and their styles couldn’t be more distinct, the artists share some common bonds. They draw upon deep wells of familial, cultural and personal history to produce poetic, often mysterious, work.

Liu, who trained in art schools in China and the United States, has never forgotten her time in the Chinese countryside drawing and photographing the farm laborers she lived and worked with during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Her need to memorialize the voiceless and nameless women and children she finds in vintage photographs continues to inspire her artwork, from prints in the “Wildflower” series, based on portraits of anonymous prostitutes, to the women, clad in traditional tops and pants, whose haunting faces are the focal point of the large canvas “Captured.”

Most recently, Liu has turned to scenes of survival inspired by the recent 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The “Rescue” series depicts babies, the elderly and pets plucked from the jaws of death. The massive oil painting “Richter Scale” takes up an entire wall and is the exhibit’s centerpiece. It freezes a moment of hope in the story of a country’s disaster: Two children embrace amid the rubble as a flock of pigeons flies upward.

Like Liu, Storer often turns to photography and other printed material to fashion the elaborate tales that play out on the surfaces of her paintings, collages and prints. The daughter of a Hollywood art director, Storer draws from a treasure trove of vintage film stills, magazines and flea market finds to create surreal stories that are part quasi-cinematic fantasy and part autobiography.

Her works can be playful, like the witty box constructions that recall artist Joseph Cornell’s famous dioramas. Or they can tell unsettling, sometimes jarring stories. For instance, in the painting “Dare Devil,” a person dangles from an unseen airplane and clasps her hands in prayer. In “Family Portrait,” three military figures ominously cradle a pair of baby dolls.

Carnwath creates the most enigmatic and nonlinear artworks in the group. Vinyl records, bunny rabbits, Etruscan faces and antique Roman vases collide with scrawled stream-of-consciousness thoughts on everything from politics to sex. While the deeply personal symbols in oil paintings such as “Can Do” and “Memory Is a Colour” almost seem inscrutable at first, time spent reading Carnwath’s deceptively simple handwritten texts %u2014 one painting reads, “Does Life Really Make Sense, Really?” %u2014 and absorbing their vibrant shapes is rewarding. You begin to see the introspective, funny and urgent threads running through each work. It’s then you realize Carnwath’s stories, like Liu’s and Storer’s, are personal and universal %u2014 and continually unfolding.

Muralists speak

Muralist Juana Alicia, whose public art works can be found all over California and in Mexico, Cuba and South America, is among the artists in tonight’s “Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo” talk at the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Alicia will join San Francisco-based muralist Mona Caron, Break the Silence mural project founder Susan Greene and “Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo” editor Annice Jacoby in a discussion beginning at 5 p.m. Admission is free with museum admission. Contact 415-750-7694 or www.famsf.org.


  • WHAT: “Story Painters,” by Squeak Carnwath, Hung Liu and Inez Storer.
  • WHEN: Noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 6-8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and during evening performances.
  • WHERE: Bedford Gallery, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek.
  • TICKETS: $3-$5; free with theater ticket on day of performance.
  • CONTACT: 925-295-1417 or www.bedfordgallery.org.
    Related events:
  • BG Art Morning with Inez Storer, 11:30 a.m. Wednesday; Collage workshop with Inez Storer, 1-4 p.m. March 27; “Culture Cocktails” with the artists, 6-8 p.m. April 1; contact www.
    bedfordgallery.org for ticket information.
  • Posted via web from The LP Revival Blog

    ~ by lprevival on March 7, 2010.

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