Author: Mercury Twenty

Contemporary art gallery in Oakland, CA

Tara Esperanza in SH1FT

Tara Esperanza, a Mercury 20 Gallery artist is included in an upcoming group show “SH1FT” at The Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery in Lafayette CA.

Tara’s painting Chopsticks in 2020 40 x 20 acrylic on canvas will be on view June 5th through July 10th at The Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery. This exhibition features Bay Area Artists and is about capturing the feeling of shifting through life and art. Artists use their medium as a form of communication and expression. Tara created this painting as a reflection and an expression of her experience last year while the fires raged on in Northern California. She says, “In the past when I would see this type of succulent on my daily runs I would visualize them against a red sky. The image kept showing up for me, but at the time it seemed so abstract. Being a realist I put the idea in my back pocket. Then the unimaginable happened last year and that red sky was no longer abstract, but in fact very real. So much has happened that has shifted my perspective. What was once abstract is now reality.”

There will be an Artists Reception at 3525 Mt. Diablo Blvd. Lafayette, CA on Saturday June 5th from 11 to 5 pm. Due to cautious COVID 19 measures the gallery requests notice of attendance. If you would like to attend the opening please email Tara the # of people and the time that you plan to go to  She will notify the gallery on your behalf. Otherwise gallery hours are Wed. – Fri. 1 to 5 & Sat. 11-5  to view the exhibition.

We are excited to see the exhibition and what these artists have created. Follow Tara on Instagram @taraesperanza to see more of what she is up to and check out her website to view more of her paintings.

Chopsticks in 2020, Tara Esperanza, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 20


The San Jose Project

We are thrilled to share that Pantea Karimi is the winner of the Window Art Display competition in San Jose’s Alameda St.
This project was funded by the Knight Foundation and created by Safely Social San Jose to boost businesses affected by Covid-19, in San Jose’s Alameda street district. Ten artists were paired up with ten businesses in San Jose Alameda St. Karimi, a Mercury 20 artist, was paired up with Crema Coffee Company. She designed 5 botanical banners for window displays. Karimi’s botanical art will surely beautify the street and inspire the community to support small business.

An Interview & Studio Visit with M20 Artist Pantea Kirimi

Caroline Kipp is a curator / artist / writer, currently at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Washington D.C.. Caroline attended an artist talk with Pantea Karimi and later she invited Pantea to participate in this interview. The inspiring artist talk was Weaving the Forgotten Women of Science into the Fabric of History, Pantea Karimi in Conversation with Dr. Kathy Zarur, at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, on Dec 16th, 2020.
To read the full interview and experience the virtual studio tour with Pantea Karimi go here


We are pleased to share that two artist members of Mercury 20 Gallery are included in this online exhibition.


MARCH 18, 2021 – MAY 13, 2021

Elizabeth Sher
Crossing the Digital Divide #8, 2013
Archival ink on canvas with acrylic
Mary Curtis Ratcliff
24″ x 30″
Curatorial Reflections
Building Bridges: Breaking Barriers is an attempt to tackle the issue of rampant ageism plaguing
our society by highlighting a group of Bay Area artists who demonstrate a continuous evolution
of artistic output with unpredicted shifts in style and medium that span several decades. As
revealed by artist statements, some of the shifts might have been instigated by the COVID-19
pandemic, imposed barriers of the art market, the intersections with science and digital
technology, that have contributed to new exciting vistas of a very crowded creative field.
What do we learn about breaking barriers and building bridges? How do we keep relevant and
reinvent ourselves through a lifetime? Can a prolific output and active presence in the art world
change minds and perceptions of growing older? Can we break barriers and build bridges that go
beyond the art community? Is technology the ultimate barrier-breaker that transcends diverse
communities, be it race, culture or economic difference? What is the role of memory? Are
breaking of barriers, or walls, physical or metaphorical, can help pave the way to building bridges
for the sake of common good? These are some of the issues that we pursue during the course of
this exhibition.
Once we understand that breaking barriers are possible, we can envision the building of bridges
that are multidisciplinary, intergenerational and multicultural, that unite us in a common cause.
Recognizing the existence of prejudice against the older adults can be made by confronting
visual and representational ageism usually seen in the media. This exhibition provides a
framework that promotes positive attitudes and appreciation leading us to building a more
sustainable bridge, when dealing with ageism and beyond. The questions I raise: Can art change
our mind and perception? This elusive question will continue to guide us throughout this series
and will continue to allude long after the memories of this show fade.
– Curator Hanna Regev
Elizabeth Sher and Mary Curtis Ratcliff will be participating in an artist talk Session Two: April 29 4:30 – 5:30
To register go here
Ruth’s Table
3160 21st Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

New Artist Members at Mercury 20


Meet Brooks Fletcher.

Brooks is a photographer and visual artist based in Oakland, California. After receiving a BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Sacramento, he served 11 years on active duty in the US Army as a photojournalist, specialized in public affairs and strategic and mass communication.

Following his military service, the Oakland-native earned an MFA in Photography from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Brooks uses color reversal film and backlit frames to examine the nature of photographs, the lived experience, and the medium’s capacity to challenge attitude and perception.

The result is a philosophically-charged body of work that not only extends an alternate approach toward photography in an age of digital reproduction but showcases the importance and relevance of photographic education in modern society.

To learn more about Brooks please visit his website





Meet Raymond L. Haywood.

Raymond is a Painter and Printmaker born in Berkeley California. His studio is in the Hangar complex at the historic American Steel studios in West Oakland. 

Raymond received his BFA from the University of California at San Diego and his MFA from San Francisco State University. He has over a decade of teaching experience from high school to community college. 

Raymond has taught acrylic painting, silkscreen printing, art history, theater set design and construction, drawing and textile design. He is also an accomplished journeyman carpenter and construction manager with Cerami Builders in Berkeley California. 

Raymond is known for his abstract mixed-media paintings that often include paper collage elements, stenciled images and found text with sociopolitical undertones. His recent work is exploring aspects of the African Diaspora through the use of cowrie shells floating in abstract expressionist landscapes and seascapes.

Abstract expressionism and Action painting are painting process that nourish Raymond’s desire to invite viewers into his singular world view. Vibrant color and depth are trademark aspects of his compositions.  His paintings evoke ethereal landscapes as well as memories of distinct destinations. 

To learn more about Raymond please visit his website

4 x 8 Bridges SF Arts Week

In the tradition of San Francisco’s celebration of the visual arts in January, Mercury 20 Gallery is pleased to participate in 4 x 8-BRIDGES, an online art fair that includes thirty-six Northern California art galleries, each showing four works, as well as a series of talks, webinars, and video walk-throughs. We invite you to visit the site January 25-31, in support of our arts community. Here is the direct link to the Mercury 20 Gallery page ~ 8-Bridges

Mercury 20 has two video events in conjunction with the fair. The first is a roundtable discussion, Zooming In: Form, Pixel, Movement, Story featuring four gallery artists: Kathleen King, Chris Komater, Mary Curtis Ratcliff and Johanna Poethig discuss their work.
VIDEO: Form, Pixel, Movement, Story

The gallery also presents a walk-through of its current group show 2020 Re:Vision presented by gallery artist Christine Meuris.
VIDEO: 2020 Re:Vision Walkthrough

Thanks for watching and we hope you enjoy!

Earth Station Garden
Acrylic on canvas
84 x 84 inches

acrylic, colored pencil, Japanese ink brush pen and digital inkjet print on milky acetate, steel, monofilament
64 x 60 x 58 inches

Mom and Dad, Chicago, June 23, 1951
Digital C-print
30 x 42 inches, framed

Kathleen King
Monument to the Precariat 1-3, 2018
Found plastic containers
Dimensions variable


AC Transit’s BRT TEMPO Line 7 year long public art project with Lead Artist Johanna Poethig and Mildred Howard with Peter Richards and Joyce Hsu is now featured in a book featuring photographs by Lewis Watts and Raymond Holbert and an essay including interviews with the artists by Leila Weefur. This document collects this 9 mile artwork for 34 Stations and almost 300 connected unique works of art into a layout that reveals its flow of ideas, images and materials.

The book is available through emailing

You can see a PDF of the book on the website here:

Cultural Corridor/Urban Flow is a 9 mile public art work created by the Team Johanna Poethig (a Mercury 20 Gallery artist), Mildred Howard, Peter Richards, Joyce Hsu which employs a ribbon of words and neighborhood iconography to enhance the new AC Transit Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line that connects downtown Oakland, International Boulevard, to San Leandro. Workshops with Oakland’s “Youth Uprising”, San Leandro residents and the broader community, informed, inspired and guided the artists design process. Local poet and writer Elmaz Abinader contributed to the text as it was developed resulting in a 9 mile long poem. Light responsive honeycomb-hex panels, designed for the Enhanced Stations, punctuates the lively visual environment as they respond to people and vehicles moving by. Each Station is a landmark riffing on the unique cultural and social environment of the surrounding neighborhood. Cultural Corridor/Urban Flow considers transportation in the context of all the human constructed systems which enable us to live and prosper on this planet. Moving people and goods freely from one place to another, along with education, communication, commerce, clean water, energy, waste management are just a few of the ways we have devised to provide for fulfilling lives. A sign of a healthy society is when all of these systems flow together in harmony. This is an unfolding work of art that offers a continuous experience of discovery along the TEMPO BRT route.


Video Profile of Elizabeth Sher included as part of the Bay Area Women Artists Legacy Project

The Bay Area Women Artists (BAWAP) Legacy Project’s mission is to highlight women’s historically significant  and much under-documented and under-valued  contributions to the Bay Area art scene. This thirty women strong organization is working diligently to compile an archive as a resource for future generations that represents the many active and talented female artists who played active roles in the arts over the past fifty years.  One of the most engaging components of BAWAP’s practice is the creation of a series of video interviews that explores not only the key figures’ extensive art practice, exhibition history, and active involvement in feminist art groups, but also the challenges they overcame as they staked their territory in a male dominated landscape.

In one particularly compelling dialogue, BAWAP member Susan Leibovitz Steinman engages her former professor and mentor, Mercury Twenty’s Elizabeth Sher, in a frank discussion of her long career trajectory.  Sher relates her transfer to Berkeley in the early 60s as a college Junior from the East Coast, and being confronted with sexism and a complete lack of women mentors.  The conversation touches upon the struggles Sher overcame balancing the demands of motherhood, her teaching career, and her continued development as an artist. From this experience Sher’s search for community and a new model of engagement with the public ultimately led to a significant, award winning exploration of film-making that parallels her still ongoing multi-media and two dimensional work.  The inclusion of Steinman’s video in the BAWAP archive will ensure that Sher’s role as a fine artist with work in major museums and important mentor for many generations of students during her forty-year teaching career at California College of the Arts will be preserved for future generations of art scholars and curators.

Peter Honig in SF Cameraworks’ Book and Zine Fair

“Principles of Failure”
Peter’s second book of photographs, is included in San Francisco Cameraworks’ Book and Zine Fair, which will be happening online Thursday, December 17th from 4-7 pm.
Comprised of still life studio photographs of found object accumulated over the course of the last twenty years, it humorously explores themes of mortality, the nature of self reflection, human relationships, and the passage of time. All of the big heavy themes tidied up in a little paperback.
You can browse the little book online (and purchase if you desire) here

Peter Honig participating in “Nature Wills Us On”


“Path” by Peter Honig is one of four images included in an online exhibition “Nature Wills Us On”.

We are happy to share with you the current exhibition “Nature Wills Us On” by Curator Gwenda Joyce. She has assembled the work of eight artists “faced with existential challenges …[who]… turn to nature for renewal, comfort, beauty, and respite.”

The exhibition continues on through this Sunday, December 13th.

Visible at

The Outwin: American Portraiture Today

“Specialist Murphy” 52 x 62  oil and graphite on panel  2016

We would like to send a big congratulations to Julianne Wallace Sterling ~ a Mercury 20 Gallery Artist whom has been selected as a finalist in The Outwin: Amercian Portraiture Today. A major exhibit to feature timely portraits on socio-political themes.

The Outwin: American Portraiture Today a major exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery featuring the finalists of its fifth triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.  Every three years, artists living and working in the United States are invited to submit one of their recent portraits to a panel of experts chosen by the Portrait Gallery. In 2019, nearly 50 works were selected from over 2,600 entries in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, time-based media and performance art.  The resulting presentation reflects the compelling and diverse approaches that today’s artists are using to tell the American story through portraiture. Finalists have come from 14 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

The Outwin: American Portraiture Today features intimate depictions of individuals whose remarkable stories are rooted in the most pressing challenges of our time,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Many of the leading national conversations from the past three years—immigration, the rights of workers, climate change and the impact of racial violence—are presented here on a personal level. It is a moment to stop, look around and admire the tenacity and beauty of the American spirit through portraiture.”

The latest edition of The Outwin addresses themes of socio-political relevance, including immigration, Black Lives Matter, adolescence, the status of American workers, gun violence and LGBTQ+ rights.

The jurors for the 2019 Competition were Harry Gamboa Jr., artist, writer and co-director of the program in photography and media at the California Institute of the Arts; Lauren Haynes, curator of contemporary art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; Byron Kim, artist and senior critic at the Yale School of Art; and Jefferson Pinder, artist and professor of sculpture and contemporary practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Three Portrait Gallery curators also served on the committee: Taína Caragol, curator of painting and sculpture and Latino art and history; Dorothy Moss, curator of painting and sculpture and performance art; and Brandon Brame Fortune, chief curator emerita.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, available at the Springfield Museums Store.

Congratulations Mary Curtis Ratcliff

With great excitement we share the news that Mary Curtis Ratcliff won first prize in the 2020 Berkeley video and Film Festival in the “Elder Producer” category for her Healing Circle Artworks video. This is yet another great accomplishment to add to her long and noteworthy career.

The Healing Circle Artworks video is used as a tool to help relieve stress and restore inner balance. It features a guided relaxation meditation led by James Baraz, author of “Awakening Joy,” soothing music and nature sounds composed by Jason Reinier, and visuals of Ratcliff’s kinetic sculptures, which are also inspired by nature. May it continue to be a healing force for so many. During these exceptionally stressful times it is essential that we all hold space for calm and continue to nurture our well being. This short video is designed to do just that. It is 5 minutes of serenity for the soul. Feel free to share the video with anyone that you know that could benefit from it.

Watch the video here:

Mercury 20 Welcomes Jessica Cadkin

We are thrilled to introduce Jessica Cadkin as the newest member of Mercury 20. Jessica is a Bay Area artist whose work has appeared in group shows internationally and throughout Northern California, including at Mercury Twenty Gallery. Her work has exhibited at Headlands Center for the Arts, Southern Exposure, di Rosa Preserve, Bedford Gallery, Root Division, and the Berkeley Art Center. She recently had a piece in an exhibit at the Bateman Foundation Gallery of Nature in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and is scheduled to be in a show at NIAD in March of 2021. In addition to being an exhibiting artist, she is an active member of the local arts community. She has been on the board at the Berkeley Art Center since 2016 and has served as board secretary, program committee chair, and is currently the governance chair. Jessica grew up in Napa and received a BA in Sculpture and Painting from San Francisco State University. We are elated to have her as a part of Mercury 20 Gallery and we look forward to seeing what Jessica creates next.

To see some of Jessica’s art please visit


M20 Gallery Artists in the De Young Open

Congratulations to Mercury 20 Gallery artists Jill McLennan and Neo Serafimidis for their inclusion in the DeYoung Open, a juried community art exhibition presenting over 1,000 works by Bay Area artists. The show fills the 12,000-square-foot Herbst Exhibition Galleries at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and is on display through January 3, 2021. The Museum is now open to the public with covid 19 safety measures in place. For more info on the exhibit visit:

See our artists’ work at:  and

Neo Serafimidis  Bryant. The Sheltering Night series, May 2020.

Neo Serafimidis  Azevedo. The Sheltering Night series, May, 2020.

Jill McLennan  Shee Crane, watercolor, collage and paint pens on wood, 24″x30″ 2019





Pantea Karimi selected for San Jose’s Holding the Moment exhibition at San Jose Airport.

Pantea Karimi’s poster California Healing,  featuring her stylized depiction of the medicinal native herb Yarrow ,was selected for Holding the Moment, a group art exhibition  representing the City of San Jose. The exhibition venue is the San Jose airport from Nov 2020-April 2021 and is comprised of the work of painters, muralists, graphic artists, photographers, and poets who address themes that reflect on sheltering in place, scenes from quarantine and its’ impact on the individual, community & society,  and the evolving meanings of community in this unprecedented time.

Yarrow, is a hardy pest and drought resistant plant that grows throughout the Bay Area. It  has been used for thousands of years to treat many conditions, as it has anti-bacterial qualities, improves circulation, and promotes clearing of the respiratory tract. Pantea’s colorful and abstracted depiction of this “multi-talented” herb promotes the connection between the environment and healing, reiterating the interconnectedness of plants and animals. The poster received an award of special distinction among the exhibitors.

The original artwork from which the poster design was adapted from, Endemic Healing iii, Yarrow, CA , is available as a limited edition print on linen photo paper. Available for purchase in our store  .

Pantea Karimi to exhibit at the University of Arizona & published in the UK’s Journal of Mathematics and Arts.

Three of M20’s Pantea Karimi’s Moon artworks have been selected for the Art of Planetary Science exhibition, organized by the science department at the University of Arizona. Imaging the Moon i, Imaging the Moon ii,  & The Infinite Moon i evolved out of her 2019 Mercury Twenty show COUNTDOWN: BIRUNI – GALILEO – APOLLO, which explored about  astronomy and the Moon landing. The exhibition features artwork that is created from scientific data, or incorporates scientific ideas, with the aim of providing a new perspective on the work of scientists and the universe. The yearly exhibit finds common ground between artists and scientists.

In addition, Pantea’s medieval math project An Homage to Khayyam and Pascal  was published in the UK’s Journal of Mathematics and the Arts . The publication, established in 2007,  is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal that deals with relationship between mathematics and the arts.

image: Khayyam-Pascal, Installation view, The Rotch Library at MIT, 2018

Pantea’s work, which began in 2014,  explores the mathematics of medieval Iran, known as The Islamic Golden Age of Science.  She writes of her inspiration for the above image:

“This gave me an opportunity to delve into my origins and place of birth and understand the Persian culture from another perspective. It was here that I came across Pascal’s Triangle. The triangular pattern of binomial coefficients was intensely striking visually, ideal for my work. Digging deeper, I learned that the discovery of binomial coefficients is named after the seventeenth-century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal. However, it emerged that centuries before, Omar Khayyam, the twelfth-century Iranian mathematician and poet, was already studying binomial numbers. In December 2015, The Guardian published an article about a new book, Mathematics and Art: A Cultural History by historian Lynn Gamwell (2016). In her book, Gamwell clearly explains the binomial numbers’ triangle and its history. In Figure 1, each hexagon contains a number which is the sum of the numbers above it. For example, in the last row, the number 792 is the sum of the two numbers 330 + 426. This triangular pattern in Iran is known as Khayyam’s triangle after Omar Khayyam who described the same pattern earlier than Pascal.”

Artist Pantea Karimi in the SF Weekly


“The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics” is a reconstruction of Pantea Karimi’s school life in Iran during the late 1980s. (Photo: Jonathan Curiel)

Black & White

Pantea Karimi’s exhibit at Oakland’s Mercury 20 Gallery, “The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics,” is a reconstruction of her school life in Iran during the late 1980s, when she struggled with the pressures of science education and struggled with the school administration’s attempts to root out her growing, teenage interest in the music of Madonna and Michael Jackson. A clash was inevitable, and Karimi, who now lives in San Jose, tells visitors how it ended through a sequence of 10 mock blackboards with mathematical formulas that gradually get more cloudy — with the final board almost completely shrouded in a chalky fog.
Iran’s 1979 revolution ushered in strict religious standards, so the Persian wording for “In the Name of God” shouts from each of the 10 blackboards. The first blackboard features a copy of Isaac Newton’s mathematical handwriting alongside Karimi’s Persian handwriting, which she uses to express her concerns about studying math and taking exams. Halfway through the 10 blackboards, two clouded photos of Iran’s religious leaders oversee the blackboards and a trove of Karimi’s personal objects from that time, such as Reebok sneakers and cassette tapes of U.S. pop stars.
The blackboards’ interplay of cloudy chalk, Persian lettering, and math formulas — and their sequential morphing from clearly visible to almost nothingness — is a kind of visual existentialism. This aspect of the work is underscored by the dark boards’ setting: a cavernous, white-walled space.
More than a decade ago, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel and accompanying film, Persepolis, made the world smile and cringe at her former life in Iran, including her student life. “The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics” produces a similar effect — only this time, we’re asked to physically stand in a place that mirrors what Karimi felt three decades ago. The mirror gets fuzzy in places. But even hazy images produce meanings that are crystal clear.

“The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics”
Free, Through Oct. 17
Mercury 20 Gallery, 475 25th St., Oakland

Artists Staying Active

Mercury 20 Artist Christine Meuris will be the Digital Artist in Residence at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles from October through December 2020.  She will be the first artist to pioneer this Covid-19 adaptation of the regular SJMQT-AIR program.
In this three month appointment, Christine will prepare us to say a not-so-fond farewell to a very difficult year through a workshop, a collective mail art project and an offering of that project back to nature at the edge of the continent, Ocean Beach.

Sheltering in the Studio with Mary Curtis Ratcliff

Mary Curtis Ratcliff is another long-standing member of M20, having joined the Gallery in 2008.

Curtis has been hard at work in her studio preparing for her February 2021 exhibition. For many months, due to the quarantine, her usual working process was interrupted by the fact she was cut off from her collaborator, master printer Tony Molatore of Berkeley Giclée .  She reports that she was left to scrounge in the back of her flat file drawers, where all the trimmings from previous digital inkjet prints of her photos had been saved. Indeed, these scraps proved so fertile that so far she she has made over 26 works in the series she has dubbed “ScrapWorks”.

Portal (left) is composed of corners culled from over a dozen different previous works.
Portal, 2020
collage of digital inkjet prints and acrylic on Tyvek
36 x 36 in.
More of Curtis’ work can be seen on her personal website and
additionally she has some very affordable offerings available on our online store .
The community eagerly awaits her February show to witness the latest evolution of her work that has spanned various genres- Video, Dance, Sculpture, Photography, Painting, Printmaking, Public Art, and Installation.


Until then…we leave you with a great interview from our Archives with M20’s Kathleen King (2008).

Can you remember any art that moved you when you were really young?

Once we went to Cranbrook when I was maybe about 8. I came across this big thing: it was horizontal, it had holes in it, had a sort of head-like form. I didn’t know what it was. It was interesting and attractive to me, and I kept saying, “What is that thing?” Well, they told me it was a Henry Moore sculpture.

Sounds like you were interested in natural forms, abstracted form. Even though you didn’t know what this piece was, it drew your attention.

It’s not too surprising that sculpture was the first type of art that I made. I did sculpture for about 25 years before I started the mixed media on paper work I do currently.

Did you do sculpture at RISD?

Yes, I majored in Sculpture and then Art Education my senior year. I really got into sculpture after I left New York City.

After college, I was into the early video scene in NYC.  I was one of the 3 founding members of VideoFreex which later became a collective. I had spent 4 years in Europe, 6 on the East Coast, and with VideoFreex, I came out to California to document the avant garde movement of the late 60s on assignment for CBS News. That’s when I knew that there was someplace else to explore if I ever left New York.

I came back out here in ’73 and I thought, OK, I went to art school, what did I major in, oh yeah sculpture! I’ll do some sculpture now. (Laughs) But the important thing is that once I started making art, even with all the low paying or teaching jobs I’ve had since that time, I never stopped making my art.  I always found a way to do it.

I wanted to make large sculpture, but I made a rule that I had to be able to pick them up myself. I didn’t want anything to do with a forklift, Cor-ten steel, stone, big chunks of wood, or having to ask someone to help me. So, I designed these large sculptures that were very light weight.

What were they made out of?

Hoops and ribbons. They were about 12 feet long and kinetic. One of the biggest, a triple hoop piece, was called Hollywood Car Wash.  They were made from Japanese ribbon, which was the cheapest material I could find; it came on huge rolls. Then I went to fabric ribbons: satins, taffetas, rayons. The sculptures went from being suspended in the air to being wall mounted. I hung them all over the place, at the Oakland Museum, the Legion of Honor.

After that, I began doing large abstract goddess sculptures, about 6 feet tall.

How did you get into making goddess figures?

In the mid-70s there was a beginning of the Goddess movement in the Bay Area and I was very interested in it. In 1978 there was a big conference at UC Santa Cruz. Carol Christ from Harvard was one of the keynote speakers, and she spoke about the re-emergence of the Great Goddess and its importance as a development in the history of religion. One of my sculptures hung over the stage at that conference.

My sculptures were also used as part of Goddess ceremonies, in processions and various performance pieces. I did performance art myself at that time, and designed sculpture to be used in ceremony and performance.

I know you travel extensively and I think you went to Malta to study the goddess culture there.

I went with Jennifer Berezan on a pilgrimage to the 6000-year-old goddess temples in Malta. First, I had to look on the map because, gosh, we had these tickets and I had to say, “Where is Malta?”

(Laughs) Really, just exactly where is it?

It’s an island south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, in the Mediterranean. 6000 years ago there was a cult worshipping the Goddess there, and they built numerous stone temples. I did a series of 2-dimensional works inspired by my trip there. Prints and mixed-media.

You did sculpture for almost 25 years and then you moved into doing prints and other 2-dimensional work. Tell me how that evolved.

Helene Aylon, an artist and friend of mine from New York, encouraged me to do this residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Sweet Briar, Virginia. She thought I’d really love the place, and she kept after me for about five years. I hesitated because, being a sculptor, I hated schlepping all my materials to a far off place to create work, and then have to schlep it all back. My partner Peter suggested that I apply for the residency and just simply do something different while I was there. That started a whole new way of working for me.

I was doing a sculpture series about cakes at the time. So, the first thing that I took up when I got to the Virginia Center residency was drawing. After about a week I decided I wanted to paint, too.  I found some wallpaper sample books and began cutting cake shapes out of them and collaging those onto painted backgrounds. That was the transition from 3d to 2d right there. I was doing cake sculptures up to that point. It grew into the 2D painted collages of cakes, then it took off from there.

I went back for a second time a couple of years later, and I decided that I wanted to transfer images onto one another. I had met a wonderful artist Alice Harris from the first residency. I called her up the night before I was supposed to leave and I said, “How do you do this?” She told me the process over the phone from New Jersey. That really changed my practice from painting and collaging to begin to start layering images.

At one point, I did a 4 by 6 foot piece with a printed background. It took me about 5 years to figure out how that piece worked. I kept trying to paint the background but then I realized that I needed to print the background. I realized I could take photos of images for backgrounds. Then on top of that I could transfer, collage, paint and draw. That’s my present work.

I’ve been looking at your recent work in the gallery and it’s interesting how you integrate the layers of imagery with the drawing and painting. You create a new, unique, and I think, mysterious image. It reminds me of that old process of hand coloring a photo, but you don’t just color it in, you work with the images, your coloring responds to them, joins them together…

That’s part of what I’m trying to do with this work, to evoke a sense of mystery and to not be obvious with what things actually are. I’m playing with abstraction and reality.

The viewer can spend a lot of time looking, deconstructing the image in their mind, figuring out what it is.

I’m glad you are seeing it that way, because that’s what I’m trying to do. I want to get the viewer intrigued and engaged with the image. The fun of these images is that it’s not particularly obvious what they are.

I feel like I can wander around the image visually. I’m thinking, “How did she do that?” “Where did that come from?” You are building an image from many images, collaging and transferring in layers, but also you’ve done other interesting things: you’ve transferred a rectangular photo, then added drawing off all four edges, expanding on the photo with drawing. Sometimes you repeat or mirror the image to transform it.

My father had a darkroom when I was growing up. I grew up watching him take photos with this big Graflex and printing them and seeing the results. I have this idea of how to make images from him. I started taking photographs when I was really young, maybe around seven or so, and I’ve never really stopped. They are my archive. Right now on my poor little Mac I have over 5000 images. (Laughs)

The other thing that was neat about my parents is that my mother made all my clothes. She even knitted our sweaters. About a week before she died, I told her, “Mom, you taught me to make sculpture.” And she said, “No, I didn’t.” I said, “Yes, you did!” We would go to the fabric store in Birmingham, Michigan, and we would pick out Butterick or Simplicity patterns, we’d get the fabic, buttons, lace. Then we’d go home, lay it out on the floor and cut it out, then sew it up. We actually made a sculpture—a three-dimensional object—that happened to be a dress.

Her father, my granddad William Curtis Carter (that’s where I got my name) was an engineer. I was surrounded by people making things on a very real level. I picked up on all that stuff.

Tell me some more about the body of work that you’ll show in your upcoming show at Mercury 20, Chosen Terrain. I’m looking at this piece called Waterweb which is fascinating.

I’m showing a large diptych called Parting of the Plates that I made earlier this year. It’s 80 inches long by 30 inches high. It starts with a photograph that I made of some elliptical circles I found in a botanical garden in Maine. I photographed them in such a way that I created a third circle in the middle. I printed them very big and I started painting and layering all sorts of things on top of them, creating maybe 4 or 5 different layers.

What kinds of things did you layer?

Other photographs—of birds, a Japanese garden, a reflection of a tree in a pond.

Is that the image you used in Waterweb, the tree in the pond? I was not sure if that was a double exposure or how the tree got into the water…

I was doing a residency in New Zealand this February, and I took hundreds of photos, some of which resulted in pieces in the show. Waterweb uses a photo of a creek. On top of that I transferred a photo of a spider web in a fence. Then I drew in colored pencil over that. I had been trying to photograph spider webs for years but it’s a hard shot to get. One morning in New Zealand, we took a walk on the farm next door. Droplets of rain and dew had been caught in this web, illuminating it. Photographing it against a dark tree in the distance, I could actually see the web structure.

I love the fence, which is also a grid and a nice counterpoint to the web. And it’s a hand-knotted fence which is so beautifully crafted.

The joinery of the fence is like nothing we have in this country. I had to draw each one of the joints in by hand. I had to really study how the metal was tied.

It’s a lovely piece and I enjoy looking at it.

Part of my challenge with the residencies has been traveling with my work. In 2000, I was in a show in Osaka, Japan. I heard horror stories about artist’s work that never made it through customs, so I wanted to make some work that I could carry with me on the plane. I designed a sculpture that is about 6 feet high by 6 feet in diameter, which I will show at Mercury 20. This piece is called Debabalizer. It’s like a big tinker toy, made of wooden dowels and joints. It’s in the form of a four-tiered cake. I had the phrase The Dream of a Common Language, which is from an Adrianne Rich poem, translated into 5 languages—Japanese, Arabic, Hindi, Greek and Russian. Paper flags are hanging down from the dowels on the top tiers of the sculpture, with the phrases are transferred onto them. The third tier down has the words earth-air-fire-water on it. On the bottom tier, I photographed the hands of a friend who does sign language, spelling out the phrase.

What is it about that cake form, or ziggaraut shape? Is it the Tower of Babel from the Bible?

It has to do with the circles and hoops. I know I’ve been influenced by experiences I had as far back as 1972 when I went to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. I met Leonard Crow Dog who was head medicine man for the American Indian Movement at the time. I witnessed a Sun Dance ceremony there, which is done in a circular form. After that I began to use a lot of circles in my work; it’s a universal symbol but the Native American culture has been most influential to me.

You have really traveled a lot.

All my life I’ve traveled and lived in other countries. My next trip is to Quebec. I’m really looking forward to using my French. They are having their 400th anniversary, and there should be all kinds of great art to see.

That sounds like fun. Of all the places you’ve been, what’s been the most life changing?

I think the experience of going to India was life-changing. It’s like going to another planet. I went around the world in 2002, and that was one of the most memorable places I’ve been.

Many goddesses to look at in India.

For sure, so many goddesses (Laughs)

What’s on the horizon for you after the Mercury 20 show with Jamie Morgan in September?

I’m busy! I have another travel challenge. I’m having a solo show at the Hess Gallery on the campus of Pine Manor College. That’s where I went to school before I went to RISD. Unfortunately, they have no budget for me to transport my work (Laughs). The gallery is large, too, so I was wondering what to do to fill it up? I thought I would try something new, have my background images printed onto canvas, which I can roll and transport less expensively. That’s what I’m working on now.

I’ll be in a show at the Berkeley Art Center in 2009. A group show with various artists who worked at the New Pacific Center in New Zealand. And, I’ll have a two-person show in a gallery in El Cerrito showing my paper doll series. Then East Bay Open Studios, and then in July another show at Mercury 20.

Mary Curtis Ratcliff