Apr 01, 2023

‘Multiplicities’ art show is small but powerful

What: Multiplicities: Works by Marilyn Dizikes and Kris Ekstrand

Where: 230 Lakeville St., at the SMART station.

When: The show runs through March 11. Gallery hours are 1-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.


Visceral texture – threads, branches, silk, grass, wool, twigs, all woven together with a sense of great energy – is the force driving the exhibition "Multiplicities," running now at the Petaluma Arts Center until March 11. The vibrant color in the paintings of Marilyn J. Dizikes is contrasted by the powerful black charcoal works of Kris Ekstrand in a small but impactful show curated by Carin Jacobs.

The mastery of the two artists is evident upon entering the center's compact second gallery space, with Dizikes’ three paintings depicting scores of many-colored skeins of yarn on the right, and Ekstrand's three powerful lifelike charcoal drawings of birds’ nests on the left.

"It's almost two sides of the same coin in a funny way," says Jacobs, executive director of the Arts Center. "Even though at first glance they couldn't be more different."

The impetus for "Multiplicities" was the idea of collecting, the show a compliment to the center's larger exhibition "Petaluma Collects," highlighting the diverse collections of 18 Petalumans, also running through March 11.

"There was such an interesting theme going on in the large gallery that I wanted to find a way to make a connection, even if it was somewhat abstract," says Jacobs.

The nests, she explains, are collections of twigs and other natural components that birds collect with the express purpose of creating their living environment.

"And in the yarn paintings, each skein represents many threads being woven together," she says. "The skeins are a collection of like things, in and of themselves, but they are also a collection of smaller things."

The show's title, "Multiplicities," refers to the many multipliers Jacobs drew from the works.

"Each skein of yarn is a single thread to the nth degree," says Jacobs, "and the skeins themselves are multiplied on a grid, and the series [of paintings] itself was a multiple of the same image but in different colors."

The three paintings of nests belong to a much larger series that represents almost all of Ekstrand's current work.

"Kris kept sending me nest images, because she had so many," says Jacobs. "As a whole body of work, you can glean an aesthetic from the grouping, but each one has their own personality to me. It felt like the idea of multiples."

It is the sense of texture that really brings the gallery space alive.

The lush rainbow colors in Marilyn Dizikes's stacks of yarn are enticing in their own right, but it is the use of Sennelier Abstract Acrylics that lends the shapes their real definition, providing the viewer a sense of how each different skein would actually feel to the touch. These acrylics come in a pouch to which a tip is attached, and the paint is applied much like a pastry bag pipes decorations onto a cake. One can almost feel the sensation of angora, chenille, aran wool, metallic fibers, and more. It is a delicious feast for the eyes.

Dizikes, who has been painting for over five decades and has exhibited all over the world, had been waiting to paint these skeins of yarn for almost a decade.

"It started with my husband – he won a free trip to the alpine region in a New Yorker Magazine writing contest, and we had four days in Munich," explains Dizikes.

While there, they visited a yarn shop.

"It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen," exclaimed Dizikes. "They had these huge walls of yarn, and you could move the wall, and there would be another wall with more yarn. It was all color coordinated, and it was beautiful. I thought I could paint this, but I wasn't sure how I would do it."

It wasn't until Diskikes attended a Riley Street art store demonstration showing Sennelier Abstract Acrylics, many years later, that she found the way to create the textures she envisioned. The raised swirls, swiggles, ruffles, and tangles she achieves in myriad colors are unique in their technique, and required her to work horizontally, and sometimes upside down.

"Color is my thing, and so I felt like I really expressed what I was planning," says Dizikes. "You feel color, that's why I did one with warm colors, and one with cool colors, and one with both. My world is dealing with color and thinking about it, and what's kept me painting for over 50 years."

In stark contrast, Kris Ekstrand's three large-scale pieces of birds’ nests are drawn in charcoal on white paper. Each larger-than-life nest is surrounded by white.

"I love working in black and white," says Ekstrand, a landscape painter and printmaker by training. Ekstrand has been drawing nests for five years. As models, she uses real nests that people bring her, and at one point had collected 50-60 of them.

"Each of the nests that I work from has a personality of its own," Ekstrand explains, "so where I place that nest in the negative space of a beautiful piece of white drawing paper, really expresses the emotional quality of the nest itself."

When she first got interested in nests, it was for the architecture in the nest itself. "I was looking for objects that had a certain amount of energy and centrifugal force and complexity of line," says Ekstrand.

Over time, she developed a deep respect for the complexity of nest construction and the instinctive skills of the builders.

"If you really want to learn about an object," she says, "just start to draw it over and over and over again. As I drew nests and people gave me nests to draw, I really got interested in the builder. How a nest is built, how it's constructed. It starts very fuzzy and formless." Ekstrand says her drawings also start out soft and fluffy, just like when a bird begins putting a nest together. "Then as the drawing develops, it becomes more structured, it gets more details with finer and finer lines."

It's an essential theme of these drawings – an intimate look into someone's house. One cannot help but feel a sense of absence, departure, transition.

Ekstrand approaches her subject with a sense of great reverence.

"The thing about a nest is that it looks so fragile. When you hold a nest it seems like it could fall apart in your hand," she says. "And yet it stands up to weather and wind and falling out of trees and having things fall on it, and still it remains intact." The energy and architecture that holds a nest together has an emotional quality too, she has observed. "Many things appear to be fragile, and yet they have some kind of quality and energy that makes them very strong."

The works of art in "Multiplicities" are so visceral you’ll ache to touch them. And it is this quality that makes the pieces so powerful – that the viewer cannot help but feel their emotional resonance. It's the ultimate alchemy, how an artist can infuse meaning and emotion into a simple object.

As Ekstrand muses, "Objects don't have to be important to be valuable. Landscapes don't have to be stunning to be interesting."

"Multiplicities" is a modest exhibition with great value, and should not be missed.

What: Multiplicities: Works by Marilyn Dizikes and Kris Ekstrand

Where: 230 Lakeville St., at the SMART station.

When: The show runs through March 11. Gallery hours are 1-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.


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