‘9.11–Artists Respond to the Events of September 11, 2001’

Beauty & Truth

Art from tragedy at “9.11” exhibit

By Gretchen Giles

Two somber months have marked two somber anniversaries, millions of dollars have been donated and spent, and still we cast about for a way to mark our mourning. Perhaps the satirical newsweekly The Onion captured it best when it was prompted to the serious silliness of its Sept. 26 story, “Woman Bakes American Flag-Shaped Cake.” Isn’t it how we’ve all felt–what to do, what to do? How can we express our feelings of solidarity and sadness? What can we give or do to make it all right?

While damnable common sense reminds us that we can’t make it all right, it further dictates that we can do that which we do best, even if that includes floured pans and frosting. In the case of some 55 Sonoma County artists, it is to document, explore, and hopefully transform the experience through beauty.

A jump-start collaboration between the newly born Petaluma Arts Council, the Cultural Arts Council of Sonoma County, gallery owner Barry Shapiro, and West County painter Gerald Huth, this transformation coalesces in “9.11–Artists Respond to the Events of Sept. 11, 2001,” an exhibit opening Nov. 16 at two Petaluma venues.

Huth, whose most recent exhibit opened on Sept. 11 at Shapiro’s Circle Gallery, “wanted to do something immediately,” says Shapiro, seated behind the desk of his airy fine-crafts store. “And we thought that this could be a chance for Sonoma County to get in touch collectively. It’s kind of why people go to funerals; it’s that collective experience.”

Ideally, the tone of the works, solicited by curator Elisa Baker of the CAC, will be less funereal than reflective. Shapiro was unsurprised by the volume of response from area artists. “They were doing this already,” he says.

In fact, Huth created two large mixed-media works immediately, collaging recent headlines onto his canvases. Large abstracts in muted colors of smoke and sunrise, the two pieces reflect on our tragedy as reported in the media. “Horror” shouts a headline adhered to the top left of Night Spirit’s Renewal. Newspaper reproductions of the many homemade “Missing” posters papering Manhattan stripe sadly through its middle.

Sales from the “9.11” show will benefit the New York Times‘ Neediest Fund, a well-established seasonal drive. Shapiro, who moved here from New York five years ago, was particularly seized by the desire “to do anything” to help. With so many options, he phoned his former New York fire station for direction. Upon their counsel, he settled on the venerable Times as the best conduit.

But will people want to purchase art directly born of such astounding sorrow? Shapiro cites Picasso’s Guernica as an example and refers the visitor to the words of sculptor Auguste Rodin: “There is no truly beautiful style, drawing, or color. There is only one beauty: that of truth revealing itself.”

‘9.11–Artists Respond to the Events of September 11, 2001’ shows through Dec. 8 at two venues: The Circle Gallery, 143 Petaluma Blvd. N., and the Petaluma Arts Council, 136 Kentucky St. A reception at both galleries is slated for Sunday, Nov. 18, from 3 to 6 p.m. 707/763-5000.

From the November 15-21, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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