Marlis Jermutus and Jill Gardner will present paintings and found object sculptures, respectively, using their art to explore the nature of form and space through “color, shape and intuition.”
Liberty Arts’ newest exhibition, “Form and Space,” showcases the work of two artists whose styles are as strikingly different from each other as the women themselves. Marlis Jermutus and Jill Gardner will present paintings and found object sculptures, respectively, using their art to explore the nature of form and space through “color, shape and intuition.”
Jermutus and Gardner come from two very different worlds. Jermutus was born into WWII Germany in 1942, while Gardner grew up in the contemporary art world of Southern California during the 60s and 70s. Both women moved to Siskiyou County in the early 1990s, about a year apart, but didn’t meet until many years later. Gardner resides in Mount Shasta and Jermutus in Lake Shastina.
Jermutus began exhibiting her artwork in Europe and America in 1970. “In rebellion against a recent history of war, in the 1970s Marlis joined her contemporaries, fellow German artists Joseph Beuys and Rigo, in a new healing artistic expression that Beuys called the ‘science of freedom.’ Marlis sought that freedom through a study of Eastern art and philosophy in combination with new ideas in science, most especially the quantum world of previously unheard-of possibilities,” Jermutus’ artist’s statement reads. .
As Jermutus has been creating art for 50 years, her style has changed significantly over time. Today, she no longer paints with brushes, instead using gravity to create stunning canvases awash in color, one shade blending seamlessly into another.
Her earlier work, when she still used brushes, featured more lines and shapes, something she described as a “calligraphic landscape.” She explained that all her art comes from the idea of particles and waves.
A video a friend shot of Jermutus making one of her newer pieces shows that it’s a surprisingly aerobic process. That’s due in part to the fact that Jermutus often works with large canvases, up to five feet by seven feet – significantly bigger than her petite frame.
She no longer stretches her own canvases, as the task puts too much strain on her body. The process of creating one of these gravity-fed paintings begins with Jermutus applying fluid acrylic in a “Titanium White” shade to the canvas. “I mix the acrylic with water and airbrush medium. The amounts of each ingredient will be different depending on how I want to use the paint,” she detailed, adding that she prefers airbrush medium because it causes the paint to move more swiftly over the material. The white base makes all the other colors pop, Jermutus said.
“I meditate before I paint so the mind gets clear, all the emotional stuff is gone. I’m just in the painting,” she described. Her paintings are born from intuition. Her instinct tells her where to put paint, which way to move the canvas, which colors to use and how many, she said. Finally, intuition tells her when to stop.
“When the painting is finished, the result is always a surprise, and that’s what I want, for both me and the viewer. Space is freedom, infinity. I want the viewer to dive into that freedom and space,” Jermutus conveyed.
But she doesn’t claim to be happy with the result of the spontaneous process every time. Jermutus readily conceded that there have been times that she didn’t like the way a painting turned out. When that happens, she said, she lets the canvas dry and then starts all over.
She currently sells her paintings only in Siskiyou County. The asking price of most of her newer pieces is in the single-digit thousands. One piece in particular has a price tag of $5,500. Jermutus noted that she generally keeps her prices lower for Siskiyou County than she would for a city where many people have higher incomes. She said she would like to explore selling her art in Portland, Oregon; San Francisco and Marin County.
Gardner and Jermutus met through Liberty Arts – Gardner is a founding member – a number of years ago, though neither could say exactly how many. Gardner has been heavily involved in the Siskiyou County arts scene for many years, noting that she has a passion for community arts. She has taught art in the local juvenile hall and served as a director of several non-profit boards, including Siskiyou Arts Council, Mt. Shasta Writers Series and Liberty Arts.
It was Jermutus who approached Gardner about doing a joint exhibition at the gallery. Gardner recalled, “She said, ‘Jill, let’s have a show. You do sculpture and I’ll do painting.’ I went, ‘Okay, let’s see what happens.’” The two pitched the idea for their show in May of 2018.
Both women are showcasing entirely new work for Form and Space. Gardner, who graduated from California College of Arts and Crafts (the school has since dropped the “Crafts” portion of its title) in 1988, has worked in a variety of mediums over the years. For this show, she made sculptures – something she’d never done for an exhibition before.
Her pieces are assembled from found objects – from drift wood, to mannequin parts, to a 1940s washing machine. The washing machine is used in a piece Gardner has titled, “Domestic Goddess.” A white female mannequin forearm and hand has been attached to the machine’s agitator. The washing machine’s tub is lit bright blue by strings of small lights inside.
When the washer is turned on, the hand gives a small wave. Gardner said “Domestic Goddess” is meant to evoke the feeling of a woman who’s trying to live up to all that title implies. But even when she’s doing it well, she’s drowning, the artist noted.
In the world of antiques, Gardner added, washing machines are “completely undervalued – just like women and the work they did.”
Each of Gardner’s sculptures conveys a sense of whimsy even when the inspiration is weighty. For a piece called “Message in a Bullet,” Gardner collected shell casings from a local shooting range and arranged them so they resemble candles on a birthday cake. Each casing is filled with something unexpected – bits of cashmere fluff, Turkish cotton, matches.
Gardner said she was reflecting on the history of bullets, gun culture in America and gun violence statistics when she created “Message in a Bullet.”
One recent statistic she cited alleges, “Compared to 22 other high-income nations U.S. gun-related homicide is 25 times higher. Although it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the U.S. had 82 percent of all gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed with guns, 91 percent of children under 14, and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed with guns.”
Gardner said she enjoys “playing with opposites and surprising the viewer,” like juxtaposing bullets and cashmere. She’s been using cashmere a lot in her art as of late because it represents comfort and peace for her, she said. “It’s the ultimate softness. In a way, it’s a kindness,” she reflected.
Like Jermutus, Gardner also allows her art to be guided by intuition. “The idea is the trailhead, then in the middle you get lost in the wilderness ... I stop thinking about what I want and stay open to the authentic voice that wants to be heard,” she explained. Gardner also tries not to tell the viewer what to think about the piece, but allows the art to speak to each viewer so everyone can derive the message from their own unique perspective.
Everyone is welcome and admission is free to the opening reception of Form and Space this Friday, Dec. 6 from 5-7 p.m. at Liberty Arts gallery on Miner Street in historic downtown Yreka. Form and Space continues through Jan. 4, 2020. Liberty Arts is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Liberty Arts is located at 108 W. Miner Street in Yreka and can be reached by phone at (530) 842-0222.