Seager/Gray Gallery, one of the Bay Area’s premier art galleries and among the gallerists who spearheaded the creation of the Mill Valley Art Dealers Association to raise our community’s profile as an arts destination, is set to showcase “Portals,” the latest work of longtime Mill Valley resident Kristen Garneau, who now lives in Sonoma. There will be a reception for the artist on Saturday, November 5 from 4 to 6pm at Seager Gray Gallery, 108 Throckmorton Ave.
When Garneau was 11 years old, her parents who lived in Lafayette were invited to the Mountain Play on Mount Tam in Mill Valley. “I remember sitting there on the top of that mountain on the grass. I could smell the grass and feel the coolness of the fog and I thought to myself, “This is it – this is heaven. I knew that at 11.”
That reverence for the beauty of nature has never left her. Her 2018 exhibition was entitled “Grace,” an homage to that feeling she had even as a child in the face of transcendent landscapes. Her 2022 exhibition is “Portal,” a nod to the way that nature provides a doorway into a metaphysical world much larger than ourselves.
“I am fascinated by the landscapes of Northern California and the American West,” she explains, ”the sky, the plains and slopes, the ocean where it meets the shore. Shifting textures and contrasts as the light changes through the day. The magic of what I call “in-between” times, the transitions at dawn or dusk, and when storms or fog rolls through.”
One painting that zeroes in on those transitions is “Dusk at Inverness” (46 x 48”), an extraordinary work that captures that exact moment when the far shapes of the mountains darken and the lemon-yellow light from the sky intensifies the bright surfaces of the water. Here, Garneau channels the works of the Abstract Expressionists as much as those of the great landscape painters. She simplifies the shapes, allowing her to explore the transcendent quality of light that one experiences at those times.
Her painting, “Weatherfront” (32 x 26”), reads like a Rothko where the bands of colors with their muted edges vibrate against one another in a harmonic chord. The painting is both simplified and complex with layerings of color upon color. The view is of the Pacific Ocean, looking out from the overlook on the highway south of Muir Beach.
Mystery and magic collide in the atmospheric “Beach Grass” (68 x 88”), the largest painting in the show. The scene portrays the experience of walking the footpath that wends its way thought the dune scrubgrass toward the Drakes Bay at Limantour Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. The distant white cap of a wave moving toward the shore is just enough to evoke the feeling of walking toward the water at dusk.
“Haystack” (60 x 66”) is the only painting in the exhibition that contains some footprint of human intervention. The golden color of the stacks bathed in the sunlight of the open field creates a delightfully engaging natural sculpture against the classic gold of the California Hills.
Growing up in California’s Contra Costa County, Garneau would ride on horseback along the watersheds that have inspired a lifelong love of the California Coastline. She completed 2 years at the California College of Arts and Crafts, but it was her work with Chester Arnold at the College of Marin over a 12 year period that she credits with finding her personal style, softening colors and shapes .
“My works are realistic,” Garneau says in her artist statement, “sometimes titled with the locations that inspired them – but they are not “real” in a literal sense, not faithful reproductions of places observed. Rather, they are the landscape rendered down to its pure essence, the raw beauty distilled in order to convey my personal experience of it.”