In March, the Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Gallery at the Benicia Public Library features a vibrant panoply of works by three Benicia artists who share a passion for color: Sarah Beserra, Susan Johnson, and Nancy Freeman. Entitled Crazy for Color: Portraits from Enchanted Places, the exhibit showcases sculpture and painting influenced by the artists' travels.
Fourteen mixed-media planter sculptures complete with living flora make their debut beneath the library gallery’s expansive skylights. The life-size busts are the newest creations of Sarah Beserra, a long-time sculptor and painter and avid member of the en plein air artist community. The sculpted portraits, which Sarah calls muses, are all depictions of women—some accomplished real-life figures such as African American entertainer Josephine Baker and Hungarian–Indian painter Amrita Sher-Gil, and some representative of women of Indigenous cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas, Egypt, France, and East India.
The works are inspired by Sarah's love of ornamentation and costume and are fabricated from recycled or repurposed materials—Styrofoam, cat food tins, turkey pans, old jewelry, foam packing, plastic bottles and bags, shells, beads, and belt buckles. Gifted with ideaphoria, Sarah has no shortage of ideas for manipulating these materials to emulate authentic clothing, jewelry, and hair decorations.
"I start by learning about these women, and then set about dressing them and putting them on bases,” she said of her process. “Every step I enjoy. Now I have 14 of these women looking at me.”
On display alongside her sister’s muses is Susan Johnson’s latest collection of oil paintings. One of the founding members of the Benicia Plein Air Gallery, Susan’s artistic hallmark is thick, textural paint in vibrant colors. This current show offers a sampling of her favorite plein air locations—Provence, Italy, the Southwest, and Benicia.
“Applying the paint feels like frosting a cake,” she says of her process of using a palette knife instead of a brush on the canvas. Susan's métier is the littoral, where the sea meets the land—Benicia on the Strait, Cassis on the French Riviera, Cinque Terra on the Italian Coast, and Venice on the Grand Canal. She enjoys the spontaneity of her process. "I don’t have a plan. I don’t intellectualize it at all." And she relishes the surprise when seeing what takes shape.
Rounding out the exhibit’s artist triumvirate, Nancy Freeman displays a selection of her most recent acrylic paintings, which are based on recent travels to Mexico and Spain. Nancy has worked in many mediums, from fine appliqué quilting to ceramic and glass mosaic tables, lamps, and pots, to illustration and painting. Her newest works are colorful acrylic paintings on canvas that represent a snapshot of her favorite subject matter: landscapes, Southwest and Mexican adobes, and still life. “My aim is to keep it loose,” she said of her process, in which she's less concerned about perspective and light source, preferring to embrace the abstract.
The Crazy for Color exhibit opens March 5 and remains on display throughout the month at the Marilyn Citron O'Rourke Art Gallery in Benicia Public Library, located at 150 East L Street. The public is invited to a reception for the exhibit on Saturday, March 9, from 2-4pm. Library hours are Monday through Thursday 10am-9pm, and Friday through Sunday 12-6pm. For more information, visit.benicialibrary.org/gallery or call 707.746.4343.