Bay Area Clay at Arts Benicia

Matt clay faces with a folk art and political flavor carved into a tall column, pale colors and dark shadows in the revices
Detail of “Cliffhanger”, 2017 by Mark Messenger

The ceramics show at Arts Benicia closes on November 19 and features many notable pieces worthy of a trip, for those who will travel over bridges. The center is open Wednesday–Sunday 12 noon – 5pm and the show is called “Bay Area Clay: A Legacy of Social Consciousness.”

The exhibition features well-known local artists and some wonderful work by: Robert Arneson, Stephen De Staebler, Viola Frey, Arthur Gonzalez, Michelle Gregor, Marc Lancet, Mark Messenger, Richard Notkin, Lisa Reinertson, Richard Shaw, Ehren Tool, Monica Van den Dool, Stan Welsh, and Wanxin Zhang.

I’ve always loved the work of Ehren Tool and this show features a wall of his cups on the left wall once inside the gallery. Two of my favorites include one with a quote by environmental campaigner and scientist Dr. Vidana Shiva, and there are several great ones featuring Trump imagery.

Matt cup with text impressed in We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the earth or we are not going to have a future at all."
Cup by Ehren Tool


A detail of 8 cups on simple wooden shelves. One features an image of Trump holding a severed head of the Statue of Liberty, another a screaming Trump face. The other cups are subdued and have images of war impressed into them
Cups by Ehren Tool


I am new to the work of  Mark Messenger and loved the large central column by him that anchors the show. All pieces are worthy of spending some slow art time to absorb the rich imagery, appreciate the technical skill and enjoy the beautiful compositions and satisfying ideas on view.

Visitors engaging with the column by Mark Messenger


Visit the Arts Benicia website for more information. The center is located at 991 Tyler Street, STE. 114, Benicia CA. and is free but as usual, donations are welcome for this artist run space. Telephone: 707-747-0131, email is

Earth, Wind and so much Fire

A series of screens that enclose the viewer in a 'u' shaped space have video projections of a forest fire
Walk Into WildFire, video projection by Ethan Turpin and Jonathan Smith

A few weeks ago Ethan Turpin and Jonathan Smith had a video projection within the Visions of the Wild Festival in Vallejo. Their installation called “Walk Into Wild Fire” features footage of a fairly short controlled burn of a section of forest, shot by a video camera encased in a fireproof housing. The speed of the fire’s progress was immense and overwhelming. I remember talking with my buddies about how terrifying the experience must be, and we talked about whether there would be any serious ones this year.

Words are pretty useless for describing the gravity of the current fires in California and the unfolding events for many people. We know that there is huge devastation and destruction everywhere, and that many people have lost their lives, their homes and in some ways their history.  Some of them are artists.

As the blanket of smoke was beginning to clear over the east bay on Saturday afternoon, a tangible atmosphere of doom and sorrow shaped the small crowd present for the artists’ talk at the Richmond Art Center. The current exhibition “Earth, Wind and Fire” seems so incredibly prescient and somehow so trivial all at the same time. We all knew that one of the participating artists Clifford Rainey, has lost home, studio and work in the ongoing Napa fire. We also learned that another participating artist, Chester Arnold has been evacuated.

The subject of the show is climate change and I’ve visited it twice before. Given the events of last week, the work was resonating with a much more direct power yesterday. I noticed the recurring images of fire in Chester Arnold’s work that I had not really seen before. I felt much more connected to a work by Clifford Rainey called White Bison  which one of my previous exhibit-going companions had particularly enjoyed. We had spent a long time looking at the piece and had gone back to it several times. We had both gazed at the deep blue of the backdrop and the charred wood pedestal in front. My heart was heavy, sensing how prophetic his work has become.

The fires have arrived after five years of drought and a year of climate change deniers in power. As human beings, we seem to be heading for a future environmental catastrophe that we cannot stop. I imagine that we were all sitting in that exhibition space with our own personal knowledge of the stark reality of what is happening to our beautiful environment, and struggling with what to think about the cruel and selfish political denial that is making it worse. It seems at once outrageous, monstrous and impossible. We are all groping for a way through the event and wondering what artists can do in the face of all the lying and corruption in high places. How do we continue? How does it shape our work and how do we practice the kind of self-care and activism that will keep us potent and sane?

The two artists present were salve indeed on the collective wound. Kim Anno and Jenny Odell shared their work and their process with calm generosity and honesty. They also gave us a greater insight into their practice and current projects than can ever be made known in an exhibition. Kim Anno is an artist, activist and educator and also executive director of which “collaborates with communities worldwide through fearless art, film and performance productions to inspire resiliency in the face of adversity.” She has moved away from painting into more collaborative video projects that explore environmental realities. She spoke with great power about the “unspeakable future” we are leaving our children.  Jenny Odell talked of the two common responses to our environmental crisis that she has noticed: the impulse to archive, and the creation of impossible and visionary futures. For immediate balm for your soul, I can highly recommend diving into her long-form piece on Medium called “How to do Nothing.”  Together they shifted our collective experience to one of community and fellowship.

I’m so glad I went again, and I encourage everyone to visit because there is also beautiful work by Harry ClewansAbel Rodriguez, Alison Saar, and Joshua Solis. I had not seen any of their work before and there is much to appreciate and spend time with. The show is on until November 11 and entry is FREE.

My favorite piece is a counter narrative of fire as destroyer. In a joyful expression of the beauty and mystery of nature, I discovered that “Ice Makes Fire” in a video work by Paul Koss1974–2004.

In a snow environment, a small twig fire is started with a piece of ice focusing the sun's rays onto kindling.
Still from video work, “Ice Makes Fire” by Paul Kos, 1974–2004

“Patient No More” at the San Francisco Public Library

Last chance

“Patient No More” has been at the San Francisco Public Library for the last few months and will end its run there on September 3rd. The mural remains in place at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, the project website has all the content from the exhibit, and the traveling version is continuing to make its way around the country.

On Thursday August 24, Cathy Kudlick, director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability hosted a tour for blind and visually impaired visitors, several board members from Cultural Connections and old friends from the Museum Studies Department of SF State University. Cathy spoke of the many access features like Braille, captioned and audio described videos and text specifically written for the disability community that were built-in to the exhibit from the beginning. She also introduced Dennis Billups, a blind 504 protester who was there during the whole “504 occupation” in 1977, and who recounted the close bonds and interdependence that developed between protesters while they occupied the government offices for 26 days. Forty years ago, the many people with disabilities and their allies who took over the federal building in San Francisco to pressure the government to sign the regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act took a stand against indifference and discrimination. Their individual stories still resonate and inform us all today.  As we toured the exhibit, I was reminded of how little I knew about accessibility when I began working on this project, how much I have learned from the Longmore Institute, and how lucky I am to have had an opportunity to work on an exhibit with, for and about people with disabilities, as curator and also as graphic designer.

A view of the Rotunda at the Ed Roberts Campus with mural in the background
A view of “Patient No More” at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California.

Visitor comments

Some new comments in the visitor book were wonderful and I thought it would be great to share them here, as the exhibit comes to a close next weekend.

August 9, 2017

“– On August 9, 2017, a group of about 30 federal employees who work for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission visited the “Patient No More” exhibit. Your hard work truly shines with your presentation. Everything was beautiful. Thank you for educating our staff and the public at large. The struggle continues … (EEOC staff member)”

August 13, 2017

“Awesome work! Keep it going. PS Loved the payphone :)”

“I lived here from 1965–1983, 1987–2000 but had no idea about the issues presented here. Thank you! (JT)”

“Great exhibit! Thanks for displaying this history for all people to see. I believe this is an amazing display on a major part of our history and events. Thanks. (DLP)”

“This exhibit brought me to tears. Thank you for illuminating this amazing event.”

August 24, 2017

“Fantastic exhibit – captures the spirit and essence of the 504 struggle. I was there – my office was across the plaza and I participated when and how I could. Remarkable how much information has been presented in a format so easy to understand. Thank you each and everyone who helped to make this possible. (WC)”

Traveling exhibit moves to new locations outside the Bay Area, 2018

The traveling version of “Patient No More” is currently at the California Museum in Sacramento until November 8, and will then travel to the Southwestern College Library in Chula Vista from January 28–March 25 2018 and will be at the Arkansas State Capital, Little Rock & University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, from August 26 – October 21, 2018.