Last Friday, I got the chance to speak with the Nelson Gallery’s director, Renny Pritikin, about the Flatlanders biennial and caught a sneak peek of this year’s exhibition while it was being installed.

Renny told me about the history of Flatlanders. The first exhibition was in 2006 after he had been director for a year and a half. He made the unpopular decision of replacing the annual February Artist’s Valentines show, a Davis community art auction, with his current curated sampling of local artists. Making this change acquainted him with the artists living around him since he was new in town. It also became a “public statement of belief in the area” and was a way of  “establishing standards for an acceptable level of achievement” of fine art in the Valley.  To choose the art for Flatlanders, Renny made visits to artists’ studios based on work he saw around town and word of mouth. If he liked what he saw and the artist hadn’t yet shown at the Nelson, he asked them to be in the biennial and to make new work to exhibit.  He also tried to include diverse artists — young and old, male and female — for a good mix of work. The 2006 exhibition included pieces by forty-seven artists, such as Verge artist/director Lisa Marasso, while Liv MoeJeff Musser, and Gioia Fonda were three of twenty artists participating in Flatlanders 2.

Image from the Nelson Gallery website. Ianna Frisby, Dress Pattern, 2010, embroidery on canvas.

Image from the Nelson Gallery website. Patrick Marasso, Office Party, 2009 oil on panel.

Renny chose VCA artists Ianna Frisby and Patrick Marasso to participate in this year’s exhibition.  They each have a set of small two-dimesional works displayed. Ianna’s canvases are embroidered with ultra-feminine figures and a retro-seventies flare. Her work depicts a magical world of perfect moms, girls going out on the town, and career women drawn in a style reminiscent of Barbie dolls. In the next room, Patrick’s painted panels recreate festive gatherings from photos found at thrift stores. His images combine human interaction, booze-filled parties, laughing people, and fancy clothes from decades past in the land of a starched, white America.  Ianna and Patrick appear to be exploring the world of adults that came before them in their own nostalgic way.

Suzanne Adan, James Albertson, Irving Marcus, Jack Ogden, Michael Stevens, and former Verge artist Mitra Fabian are the other six locals participating. Paring down the total number of artists to eight makes for a more intimate show this time around. It allows the artists to show more work so you can get a more personal narrative. As a viewer, you don’t get lost in a sea of small pieces. The work has room to breathe and you can make connections between the pieces within a series or the artists across the gallery. Some associations Renny has found so far are humor, satire, use of photography, and figuration.

Flatlanders 3 : A Regional Roundup is open from July 8 – August 15. The reception is Thursday, July 8th, 5:30-7:30pm.

I spy Liv Moe in Renny's office