East, west coast artists meet at BluSeed exchange

SARANAC LAKE – Last week, eight artists from Monterey, California, unveiled their artwork to dozens of curious onlookers at BluSeed Studios.

The variety of colorful prints captured the natural and the unnatural, the literal and the abstract.

The “Sea to Seed” exhibition is part of a collaboration between BluSeed and the MPC Printmakers, an association of printmakers from Northern California’s Monterey Bay area. To complete the collaboration, seven local artists will display their work at Monterey Peninsula College art gallery next May.

MPC Printmakers director Robynn Smith said the organization has done similar collaborations in past years, including one in Hawaii and another last year in Mexico, which was also attended by some local artists.

This collaboration happened after Saranac Lake native Katherine Levin-Lau introduced Smith to BluSeed Director Carol Vossler. Levin-Lau left the area to live in Monterey, where she joined the MPC Printmakers before moving back to Saranac Lake.

Smith has five pieces on display at BluSeed. One is a bleak collection of shapes that, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a photograph of the winter ice breaking up on Lake Flower. It’s a landscape she doesn’t often see in California. Overlaid on that is an image of coiled barbed wire from World War II.

Smith’s other pieces also portray an unlikely marriage of beauty and horror. Another photo is an image Smith took of a poppy field in France, but nestled within the flowers are heaps of landmines she photographed during a trip to the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Facility.

“They’ve neutralized something like 90 percent of the landmines in Cambodia, but you still don’t want to walk anywhere without a guide,” Smith said. “The landmine museum literally has piles and piles of landmines. They come in all different sizes and shapes, and they’re all a bit terrifying.”

Smith liked the juxtaposition of the landmines with the red poppies because the flowers have represented war remembrance since World War I.

The bi-coastal collaboration has given the artists a chance to show their work to a different audience and to see a different part of the country. Smith said a lot of the artists got off the plane and couldn’t believe how green the Adirondacks is.

For many of them, it was the first time seeing this region, but for artist Janis O’Driscoll it has felt more like a homecoming.

O’Driscoll grew up in Canton, and her family visited Saranac Lake and the Fish Creek campground regularly while she was growing up. She has since relocated to California.

“I’m not from here, but I don’t feel like a stranger here, either,” O’Driscoll said. “What excites me is that so little has changed over the years. The people are just so nice and accommodating.”

O’Driscoll’s prints were inspired by a road trip she took from California to Alaska along the Alaskan highway, something she said everyone should do at least once. A number of animals are represented in her work, but perhaps most striking is the print of a grizzly bear she saw one day.

“I have a little Honda Civic, and my friend was with me,” O’Driscoll said. “My car is little and it’s quiet, so we saw a lot of animals as we drove down that highway. These bears would just wander right in front of us. We felt foolishly protected in this little car. If they wanted us, they surely could have had us.”

The bear that inspired the print crossed in front of the Honda and made its way down to a stream, where O’Driscoll and her friend watched it for a while. She said there are many other moments like that still waiting to be reproduced in a print.

Levin-Lau’s monotype prints are also nature-inspired, but they seem to call forth a different reality in which octopus and butterflies co-habitate within a brightly colored matrix.

Chinese lanterns dangle above deer skulls and ghostly birds flutter silently by in the background. It’s oddly Adirondack, and it somehow brings the viewer into a place that couldn’t possibly exist outside of the canvas, but yet it still feels familiar.

Levin-Lau said that assessment isn’t entirely off base. She is fascinated by nature, so her curiosity-driven pieces include houseflies, fiddleheads and flowers.

“My images are based on the idea of the old curiosity cabinets, which precluded modern museums,” Levin-Lau said. “People would put odd things in them, things that were often from somewhere else. It was mostly the wealthy and the royalty who were doing these collections. People would travel and they’d bring back whatever they found.”