Photography, Art, and Whimsey: Painted Bird Gallery

December 24, 2020

Bob Phillips stands in front of one of his photos, his feet spread slightly wider than shoulder-width, a facemask hiding his bearded face. Under his opened flannel shirt, a ‘D’Art Frog logo shows, half-hidden. “I consider myself a landscape photographer,” he says, thinking for a second. “I’m really an  old school photographer.” On the walls around him hang his photographs. Sure, there’s a spectacular photo of Mt. Konocti shaded in the purples and blues of sunset on one wall, but near it, an image filled with holiday revelers hangs. Close-ups of radial airplane engines and painterly photographs of downtown Lakeport fill the walls next to them, showing that Bob’s more than just a landscape photographer. When I mention it, he smiles. “When the gallery was just my work,” he says, “I would have people come in, look at my photos, and ask, ‘How many photographers do you have?’” he laughs.

One of Bob Phillips photographs

“So, how did you end up sharing your space with other artists?” I ask.

“This is how it happened,” Bob answers quickly, a smile on his face. “When COVID hit, my landlord gave me three months without rent. But we were closed that entire time, so nothing was happening.”

Next to him stands Terry Church, his shoulder-length gray hair touching the collar of his pea-green blazer.

“I talked to Bob,” Terry continues, “And said, ‘Why don’t we go in it together?’ So we made a partnership with three other artists: Bob Philips here, me, Bernadette Straub, Renata Jaworska, and Ben VanSteenburgh.”

“What’s that?” Ben VanSteenburgh says as he pops into the room. Ben’s originally from Pennsylvania and has brought his incredibly detailed acrylics to The Painted Bird Gallery.  As he talks, his round glasses begin to fog up from his mask, but that doesn’t slow him down.

In the middle of a chat about his artistic style, he glances at the tattoo covering my forearm. “So what’s that there?”

“That’s a raven,” I reply. “I’ve seen some of your ravens at the Middletown Art Center.”

“Oh, that wasn’t all of them,” he says as we walk into the other room to look at one of his paintings of a pelican in shades of blue, wings stretched upward. “The whole series is eleven paintings. It would stretch across both of these walls.” Ben likes to go big, go detailed, and create pieces that express strong movement and emotion.

I move slightly to look at another one of his paintings and bump into a futuristic rocking chair created by Terry Church.

Terry Church’s “Hot Seat” in front of some of Ben VanSteenburgh’s artwork

“Oh, you bumped into the Hot Seat,” he eagerly says, bouncing over to me. The chair’s a combination of steel, plexiglass, and found objects, with a hot plate situated in the seat’s center. “I made this out of some high technology.  You see,” he points underneath the chair, showing me a sensor-like object attached to the hot plate. “The sensor picks up atmospheric energy and heats up.” He touches the hotplate and quickly pulls back.

I eye him incredulously. Seriously? I think.

Terry’s undeterred and gingerly touches it again. “It gets especially hot when there’s bullshit in the air, like right now.” He pulls back and smiles a broad smile, enjoying the joke. I laugh.

Terry’s style, often whimsical, always conveys a message. His commentary on health care, education, and Valley Fire are all striking. I had the privilege to see his “Loss for Words” earlier and was left, well, at a loss for words.

Meanwhile, Bernadette’s been chatting with Trudy.

“I lived in Southern California, but I had to leave,” she says, a turquoise scarf contrasting her brown blazer and jeans. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I first came to Lake County when I visited a friend and fell in love with it. When a job position opened, I took it and have lived here ever since.” Bernadette finishes with a laugh.

“It’s not for everyone, but it’s so nice not to have traffic, crowds, or stoplights!”

Some of Bernadette Straub’s work

“Yeah, there’s a different pace and time in Lake County,” Trudy says, agreeing. “I call it island time. Everything slows down in Lake County.” Bernadette’s eyes smile.

“I started painting first,” she says, “but then I got bit by the clay bug, and have been doing that since then. “I like assemblage,” she continues, showing us some of her pieces.  They’re unique, often with hidden parts. “I like puzzles, too. And I think that what I make should be functional as well.”

She leans over to one of her pieces, “The Fat Growth on Eric Hearble,” and pulls on the growth, a small head popping out of the larger head. As Eric’s mind opens, an open canister appears. It’s not just art; it’s also a place to store treasures. The thoughtfulness of Bernadette’s art encourages curiosity, an I wonder if. . . sort of feeling.  Each piece becons new imagination.

Throughout all of this art, the metalwork of Renata Jaworski spreads, bright, perfectly balanced, and filled with movement. Each piece tells a story and invites further exploration. A sidetable glimmers underneath a photograph, intricate metal lacework wrapping the bottom. Nearby, a tree clings to the edge of a cube, its intertwined branches arching above.

A piece by Renata Jaworska

As we finish chatting with Bernadette, Bob, Terry, and Ben stop for a cheese and crackers lunch in the courtyard. They laugh, tell jokes, and rib each other. That’s what makes the gallery unique; they’re not just business partners; they’re friends.

If you have a lover of art on your list, you’ve got to stop here. There’s something for every taste.

The Painted Bird Gallery

Hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 11-4

3790 N Main St, Kelseyville, CA 95451

(707) 994-5453

This post first appeared in The Lake County Bloom. To read more like it, visit their website.