April Higashi has made her name on her skillful and organic style of enameling. Building layers of color in a painterly fashion she creates small and wearable artworks rooted in a reverence for nature. Conversely, Aondrea Maynard paints large canvases in which she distills moments unseen yet present in the natural world around us. A smart pairing, the show “Sea & Sky” is a look at the evocative ways in which artists become inspired by the natural world and their relationship to it. Each artist, though very different in chosen medium and scale, is working from a deep and intuitive place, attempting to assign materiality to the intangible realm of experience.
Higashi is currently navigating the challenges of new motherhood, owning and operating a gallery and continuing an art practice of her own. Despite this hectic work environment, her new collection has a sense of peace and stillness. A subtle shift has occurred in her enamels as vibrant patterns spread over the whole surface have been left behind for a more sparse imagery with soft white backgrounds. “Ma” Brooch (painted enamel, oxidized silver, 18k yellow gold, and diamond slices) exhibits a single bare branch, rendered fuzzy as if seen through thick fog. About this new aesthetic Higashi says, “I wanted to arrive at a subtle beauty that gives the viewer a sense of calm. This quiet place is a space that I crave, even if only enjoyed for the smallest moments.” These new enamels are small homages to the awe-inspiring effect of nature. Perhaps by pointing our gaze at artwork instilled with this awe we may be able to steel a moment away from the busy, over-scheduled day to day.
Higashi’s reverence for nature comes through in not only the imagery painted on her enamels but the materials she uses as well. Shiro Brooch (fossilized coral, black diamonds, 24&18k gold) offers the viewer a relic from the past. Embellished very sparingly with a faux branch reproduced from gold and set with black diamonds gives the piece a feeling of elaborate repair. Like many jewelers, Higashi works with precious metals, stones and pearls. Always careful to use only those that are responsible and sustainable, her eye falls on the peculiar. The pearls, stones and other precious materials seen in this show shed light on her special interest in the beauty of imperfection. Those things that nature makes sub-par or irregular, according to market standards, are the very materials that she covets. The asymmetry of a branch of fossilized coral, a domé pearl originally used as a test to make cultured pearls, and raw diamonds mined decades ago to make industrial tools hold the spotlight in this extensive body of new work.
Aondrea Maynard’s paintings are at once beautiful and haunting. Capturing the liminal, she creates a visual language for the moments that happen in between what we might consider regular and documentable events. In many of her paintings, namely Lover (oil on wood), light and color are a strong focus and occupy the canvas with as much weight as line and shape. What looks like puffs of smoke, upward moving steam, and currents of air are rendered as tangible as a full moon or the silhouette of tree tops. A reoccurring shape appears, reminiscent of the end of a cello or violin or perhaps the ubiquitous Acanthus leaf. In Whaling Song, the shape has such a weight and shadow that it becomes animate, a living and breathing being. For the artist it is a shape that feels good to paint and her body has a natural tendency towards it. In this way a language specific to the artists physicality has become part of the visual language of her painting.
Challenges of sustaining a successful art practice are present for both artists. In Maynard’s short talk given during the show opening she spoke of the dangers of getting stuck in an aesthetic that sells well. For a painter whose aim is to paint the invisible, she has to try to shelve this looming demand of marketability and get to that deeper place that many artists seek. For Higashi and Maynard continuing a successful studio practice while striving toward their true creative vision is not easy in the midst of life’s daily challenges. In “Sea & Sky” we are offered an unusual comparison of the work of two artists, a jeweler and painter. Similarly inspired, the careers of two women converge at Shibumi Gallery as they exhibit their most recent bodies of work.
For those unable to steel a moment from their day-to-day, visit Shibumi Gallery's Flickr page where you will find April Highashi's jewelry collection, Aondrea Maynard's paintings as well as photos from the opening.
Review by Ahna Adair