by Pam Pietroforte
The brilliant Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh, struggled to have his paintings shown during his lifetime. He lived in poverty for his art and was not commercially successful, but if he were alive and living in the Central Valley in 2019, he’d be happy to know local art is appreciated and valued here in Tulare County. Many artists, both recognized and emerging, need the support of the community to continue their work and lift their imagination. That’s why, on March 30-31 of this year, the South Valley Art Tour is celebrating the life of the artist by showcasing over twenty-five artists and their work in the atmosphere of their own personal studios, that place where art happens.
Imagine if Vincent had a Passport to the SVAT, his first glimpse of beauty would be along the tour drive: the vibrant and varied colors of spring wildflowers in bloom, the pale blue shimmer of mountains in the distance, and the olive trees he loved to paint that reminded him of days spent in France. It is from nature we find in our own backyards, the culture around us, and the diversity of people living here in Tulare County that South Valley artists draw on for inspiration and ideas. All that, and more, can be seen along the way. Let’s go…Arriving at the first venue, the Tulare studio of the tour’s featured artist, Daniel Bonilla Vera, whimsical photographic images touching on gender identity are the primary focus. The photos utilize flowers, drag queens and the male form, and are connected to his life experiences.
Continuing the adventure, a visit to Visalia and Christy Stapleton’s studio reveals a fanciful world of creatures illustrated in acrylic, pastel and mixed media: seals lounging on a sofa, a raccoon and her baby nestled in a knotted tree, mice binge-watching their favorite TV shows. Illustrations for young and old call to the child in all of us.
The next stop might be Betty Berk’s studio in Visalia. Vincent would identify with her colorful expressionist oil painting style she refers to as “Expressionist Fusion” and admire her dynamic brush strokes and images of flowering trees. He viewed blossoming trees as a symbol of awakening, hope, and new life.
For a break, the towns central to the tour offer restaurants, bars, and breweries for meals and snacks in between studio stops. Vincent might be used to a diet of bread, cheese, and wine, but here in the Valley, there are a variety of eateries to accommodate your palate.
Then, on to Springville and the studio of Joy Harvey to see her unique style of Chinese brush painting. Joy also uses animals as her subjects and tries to capture their spirit. In a similar vein, it was Japanese art that was a catalyst for Vincent and he once commented, “…it makes us return to nature, despite our education and our work in a world of convention.”
Crafts also play a big part in the artistic community and in Visalia, at the studio of Martha Gaines, there are demonstrations of handcrafted jewelry design. The magic happens as she transforms recycled material, including vintage silverware into rings, necklaces, and cuffs.
The journey might lead to the Visalia studio of Nate Norman, a mixed media artist. Vincent would get a glimpse of visions of futurescapes and the unusual and seemingly strange beings that inhabit them. Inspired by pop culture and video games adults and children alike would recognize, pictures are created using pixel art and painted scenery to create a three-dimensional effect.
Once the tour has ended, it’s really only just begun. You will take with you from your two-day excursion a sense of wonder at the talent and dedication of the local artists and a new appreciation for the work they hold so close to their heart, and perhaps, take home a piece of their art, as well. From woodcarvers to painters, stained-glass artists to printmakers, there is nothing like seeing an artist at work in his own space. Who wouldn’t want to observe Van Gogh painting his sunflowers in the fields of Arles?
You have a chance to enjoy all this wonderful Central Valley has to offer in the way of art, culture, and community on the South Valley Art Tour. This is a future Vincent Van Gogh could only dream of. Join the tour and watch dreams being made. You might just find your next Van Gogh.
Tickets are $25 and admit two people into the South Valley Art Tour. Included with the purchase are a keepsake magazine (the “Passport”) that will provide the information, maps and directions needed to access the studios, and two commemorative pens that serve as entrance permits for each studio.
Presented by The Arts Consortium. You can learn more on their website.
The Arts Consortium is the non-profit arts council for Tulare County and is one of the state local partners of the California Arts Council. The organization also works closely with other non-profits, local governments, and businesses to provide opportunities to create and celebrate the arts for all residents and visitors. Through leadership and innovation, the Arts Consortium is committed to preserving our cultural and creative diversity by building community where the arts are a vital part of everyday life.