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[whitespace] Nicolas van Krijdt Cooped up: Sculptor Nicolas van Krijdt crafts his painstaking works in a renovated Petaluma chicken coop.

Photograph by Michael Amsler


Come Together

Two artists find likeness in 'Opposites Attract'

By Gretchen Giles

Let's begin with some basic math: One, a man; the other, a woman. Now to algebra: One, a sculptor; the other, a painter. Geometry: One is immersed in the enormous exploration afforded by just three forms. The other can't help but find an unintentional avian in almost everything she does. Calculus: One produces painstaking pieces, worked down to such on-the-bottom details as would never be discovered unless an earthquake knocked the artwork over or an excitable child romped by. The other offers large, voluptuous paintings that sometimes appear as if the artist just flung herself upon the canvas in gorgeous, momentary epiphany. Trig: One, abstract; the other, representational.

No, wait--that doesn't add up: Both abstract, both representational.

Perhaps the abacus should just be retired, since a dizzying number of calculations may be made when Nicolas van Krijdt and Marg Starbuck come together for "Opposites Attract," a new exhibit opening Jan. 26 at the Cultural Arts Council Gallery in Santa Rosa.

Indeed, when trying to puzzle out how opposites might coalesce, it becomes easier to see how much harmony is wrought. Both artists deal in archetypes, and both aim to offer effortless-appearing work that is thoughtful and deep, and waiting with coiled tension for a viewer to aid its release.

Not that one would feel too tense strolling into the impeccable Petaluma chicken coop where van Krijdt spends his working days. Houses, chairs, and vessels--the latter resembling a trim canoe's shape when seen from above--are the possibly "domestic" forms that absorb him. "Gosh, for only about the last 15 years," he admits with a laugh. "I see them as representing something much broader [than the shape might suggest], depending on the way they're arranged or presented. A big part of what I like to have happen with my work is that it's intriguing enough to draw you in for more than just visual impact."

Van Krijdt often records the sounds--conversation, saws, welders, sanders--of the work being crafted and puts the resulting audio loop into pieces before they're exhibited.

"I like to create a contextual boundary and put things in it that are perceived one way but are actually something else," he smiles. "If someone gets settled enough into the piece to see the quality of it, they're rewarded. The sound that they're hearing is not just something going on outside."

For such seemingly simple forms, van Krijdt's sculptures are rigorously created. That yellow isn't just yellow. It's 10 to 15 layers of yellow, separately applied, left to dry, and sanded back before another coat goes on. "All of it imparts an energy," he says. "With the work that I'm most attracted to, a sixth sense tells me that a lot of time went into it. It's a cumulative effect."

The viewer takes a critical look and lowers her voice. "You know," she confides, "those are penises, people, and vulvas."

"I've caused a thought process!" van Krijdt crows happily. "This isn't what I meant for them, and I find it fascinating. If you're a minimal artist, you run into this a lot. I didn't sculpt penises, people, or vulvas. I don't mean for them to be representational. The thing that I respond to the most are those that lead me to imagine how I'd relate to it."

To that end, some of the chairs to be shown in "Opposites Attract" will sport dainty white gloves that viewers may don for use in relating to them--that is, reconfiguring their position. Those of van Krijdt's chairs one won't be able to alter are a number he is preparing to place amid seven sculptural domiciles this spring at the Vineyard Creek Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Santa Rosa.

And if his chairs aren't people, they're peopled, offering perhaps just a whiff of that impatient soul who got up and left things slightly askew. Van Krijdt recalls the day after he and his wife, artist Anna Corba, were married when they had to return to their nuptial scene to help clean up.

"The chairs were coupled, passed out, tipped over, pulled to one side," he smiles. "You could still see the afternoon." The void made palpable.

If the worst one could say about van Krijdt is that he thinks too much about his work, the opposite case might be made for West County painter Marg Starbuck. At least while she's doing it, it's with a mind clear and buoyant enough to occupy a van Krijdt chair.

"I do approach things in a different way than a lot of people," she admits, seated comfortably in the converted barn that serves as her studio. "I approach my panels and try to apply paint without being too aware of what I'm doing."

For many years, Starbuck says, she worked with her "eyes closed--metaphorically," using an almost trancelike state to paint, standing so close to the canvas that she couldn't see the images as she wrought them.

"I'm a big planner," she says, "and I have to break through that some way."

But Starbuck didn't plan to become an artist at all. Married to a busy oil executive who kept the family moving, she raised four children, kept house, and went to church. When her liberal congregation, excited by the wide-open ideas of the '70s, sent her to study the methods taught at the C. G. Jung Educational Center in Houston, her own world broke open.

"I left the church first thing, of course," she laughs. Then in her 40s, she resumed her studies and took an art class. What started as a diversion became her life.

Using the extremely unusual method of painting with her fingers and hands directly onto her panels came naturally to Starbuck, who was initially torn between becoming a ceramicist or a painter. "I can't imagine why other painters don't do it," she says. "It's marvelous to be so in touch."

The resulting paintings are vivid, swirling abstracts with strong color statements that somehow keep showing up . . . as birds. Starbuck doesn't know why, but she now accepts these forms as archetypes simply meant for her. "I try to bypass control and creep up on the unconscious. And in order to sneak up on the unconscious," she chuckles, "you have to be tricky."

The bold colors of her recent work also surprise her. Before this, she hadn't used the strong flash of the primaries in years. In fact, her last decade's works are known collectively as "fog paintings," swirling white-muted abstracts, wholly birdless, wholly toned to the greeny-gray, whitey-blues of a moisture shroud.

Starbuck again is undisturbed. She talks of trying to tell the truth. Trying to be honest. "The painter," she says, "becomes very humble. It's a lesson in humility."


'Opposites Attract' exhibits Jan. 26-March 8 at the Cultural Arts Council, 602 Wilson St., Santa Rosa. A reception for the artists takes place Saturday, Jan. 26, from 4 to 7 p.m. The gallery is open Monday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. 707.579.ARTS.

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From the January 24-30, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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