Feel Their Paint 

Where do new artists come from? The "Fresh Paint" show in Emeryville, for one

t's hard not to do a double take when encountering Lisa Starr's Bradley. Painted with the clarity of a camera, the handsome man looks out of the canvas with an intimate, immediate gaze that one senses isn't meant for the viewer. Around the corner, Tiffany Forner's pastel-hued paintings draw one in closer to search for dimly grasped fragments of memory amid the faint patterns and words traced from old refrigerators.

The visual dialogue on the walls grows out of a conversation among painters. "Fresh Paint" is one of five interlocking shows on display at the Hollis Street Projects in Emeryville from now until March 1. All five shows display the work of participants in Taking the Leap, a six-month practicum for visual artists.

Photographer Cay Lang, whose work has been shown around the world, founded the program thirteen years ago to teach artists how to build successful careers. "Most artists would rather be in the studio than be businesspeople," she says. As the number of galleries that represent local artists has shrunk, more mid-career artists are joining Taking the Leap to learn how to bring their work to national and international markets. Lang continues to lead the program and has written a book by the same name.

The 49 participants in this year's program were chosen from 530 applicants for the clarity of their voices and the strength of their identities as artists. Once accepted, the participants are divided into five classes -- four painting and sculpture, one photography -- depending on their experience in the art world. Some have never shown their work, some have exhibited extensively.

The "Fresh Paint" group brings together nine painters. Sherrod Blankner, whose light-filled, vibrant landscapes capture the interplay of fauna and city on San Francisco's Dolores Street, has been showing in the Bay Area for a long time, "but I've been doing it in the dark. I've learned a lot from listening to the other students' tricks and strategies" for getting shown. Torrie Groening, a successful printmaker in Canada who moved to the Bay Area last year, chose the Taking the Leap program to mark a return to painting and to jumpstart her career in the United States. Her surreal, richly painted still lives assemble manufactured and natural objects to map the senses.

The show comes at the program's halfway point. Meeting once a week since the beginning of November, students have learned how to put together portfolios, approach galleries, and mount shows. After the show, the artists will discuss their work with art critics, gallery owners, and curators. Throughout, they are building connections with the art world and with one another. Some classes meet for years afterward and even mount shows together. Lang makes herself available "for life" to her students, and maintains a resource center and "listserv" for past participants.

Susan Martin, one of the faculty members, says that this year's exhibit is "a good show for young collectors to come to." "Fresh Paint" and the four other Taking the Leap shows will be on display from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hollis Street Project, 5900 Hollis St., Emeryville, until March 1. For more information about Taking the Leap, visit www.takingtheleap.com.


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