Five Unique Artists That Are at the Top of Their Game
Oshalla Diana Marcus
Dancer, Director and Curator at
MC Arts and Culture
“Every time I cross one of the bridges — San Rafael–Richmond, Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate — I am reminded of how beautiful the nature we live in is. The marshlands, great redwoods, majestic mountains and the rolling fog are inspirations to create,” opines Oshalla Diana Marcus, a third-generation Marinite and the creative force behind the blossoming Marin City’s MC Arts and Culture center. Her artistic career has spanned nearly 40 years and draws upon a multiplicity of disciplines, including theater, television, film and dance and a gratifying delve into the world of wellness: teaching yoga and Pilates. “Yet, I know I am just getting started as I enter into another level — a synthesis of all that I have ever done,” says Marcus.
A big part of this next chapter is her role as curator of the MC Arts Gallery, a position she stepped into in the middle of what she calls “the 2020 Covid-19 reality shift.” And as with most things in her life, she has embraced it with a robust desire to create — this time emphasizing a deeper community connection and an opportunity to shine a light on other artists of African descent. “We will host the first Marin City Arts Festival in July featuring selected artists from the Africa diaspora and artists from Marin District 3 (unincorporated Mill Valley, Sausalito and Tiburon). In the fall of 2021, I am curating an exhibit entitled Vindication of Black,” she says. The center will also be participating in this year’s Marin Open Studios.
Her personal dance practice is evolving as well. “I am embracing partner dance in the form of tango — a Kikongo word translating as ‘the place where we meet.’ I knew nothing about the African roots of tango, but upon learning of it, I was inspired to master the art form,” she confesses.
In creating dinnerware there is a lot to consider. Among the nuances are size, color and weight and how these things will play out in a restaurant setting. Will the server be able to carry more than one plate at a time? How easy is it to put down and pick up? How will the chef use the plate to control the temperature of the food and the diners’ experience? As someone who creates dinnerware for some of the most revered restaurants in the Bay Area, Jered Nelson knows about all of this firsthand. Having earned a degree in ceramics at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Nelson was influenced by the Japanese tradition of mingei and credits his father for passing down an acute attention to detail. He also has a deep-rooted fascination with how people interact with ordinary objects.
“I always wanted to be an artist/craftsperson; I didn’t feel I had a choice. I had some mentoring by older artists — two that had a big impact on my work. Sonja Christiansen-Iverson told me of her long love affair with clay in such a way that I fell in love, too. And Paul Soldner inspired me to think about more than my craft,” he says.
Originally from South Dakota, Nelson moved to the Bay Area in 2004 and for six years worked at Heath Ceramics as a prototyper and problem solver. He has created pieces for Chez Panisse and for restaurants owned by Daniel Patterson, Michael Mina and Michael Chiarello, to name a few, but like for so many, 2020 was a different time for the potter. “The last year consisted of more thinking than creating,” says Nelson. “I’m working with a lot of new colors right now. I feel like we are at a crossroads of sorts and finding the colors that resonate helps me understand how people are feeling.” It seems fitting. When asked about his favorite part of the creative process, he answers, “I love to imagine the possibilities, the solutions and the resolutions to conflict.”
“Give yourself permission. I used this mantra to quit my job and focus on making art my life,” says Windy Chien, a San Francisco–based fiber artist who works with knots to create sculptures and site-specific, and often large-scale, installations. After 14 years of owning an independent record shop in S.F. and then almost a decade at Apple, she had a yearning to work with her hands. “At first, I was making products — a pendant light, hand-carved spoons, etc. — but I quickly realized I didn’t love, and was easily bored by, running a product-based business. It’s way more fun to make one-off fine art works,” says Chien. After exploration of various mediums, it was a macrame class that set her on a new creative path. With more than 4,000 documented, named knots to explore, she tasked herself with learning a new knot every day for a year, documenting each one on Instagram, which resulted in her much-lauded book The Year of Knots (2016).
In her work, Chien explores complex themes, both social and those of the natural world, incorporating recognizable patterns (think DNA double helixes and circuit boards). “Knots sit at the intersection of function, science and history, and to that fertile place I add aesthetics to illuminate,” she says. Currently, there are five of Chien’s works on exhibit at Walnut Creek’s Bedford Gallery in the group show A Beautiful Mess: Weavers and Knotters of the Vanguard (until June 13). She is also preparing for a solo show at Sarah Shepard Gallery in Larkspur that starts in July.
Goldsmith and Jewelry Designer, Co-founder of Poet and/the Bench
“Being an artist is a calling,” says Jeffrey Levin. A Cape Town, South Africa, native, he was born into a family of jewelers. “I have immense respect for the foundations, iconic designs and simplicity. I embrace a more European style, which translates to the clean lines you’ll see in my work as well as an approach of making perfectly imperfect tactile pieces,” he says. While Levin has been in the U.S. for three decades, he admits that life in Cape Town — the images of the colorful houses of the Bo-Kaap in Cape Town’s Malay Quarter; the coming-of-age celebrations by the Ndebele tribes and the graphic markings that women painted on their homes; the music scene; and the influence of European culture on fashion — will always be in his bones.
Along with his wife, Bonnie Powers, Levin opened Mill Valley’s Poet and/the Bench in 2015 with the idea of combining his custom jewelry atelier with a platform for emerging and independent designers and artists. He is quick to add that “in the 1940s activist Edna Foster bought what is now the complex where our shop is located with the intention of building an artists’ community. It feels good to be carrying on that tradition.” Levin and Powers are creating a local tradition of their own. “Urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs wrote, ‘Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.’ This rings true for us. We will continue to locate new artists from diverse backgrounds and celebrate the voices that society doesn’t often shine a light on,” he says.
“I believe that there is something magical about where the land meets the sea, the melding of conscious and subconscious,” says San Rafael resident and fine artist Janey Fritsche. While she has only been painting full time for the past five years, her creativity was fostered throughout her career in interactive design work. Her clients were broad and diverse, including Apple, George Lucas Educational Foundation, Stanford University, Paramount Pictures, the Smithsonian and the Grateful Dead. But her time dedicated to her art has been just as fruitful and includes solo exhibitions at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato and commissioned work for Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Cathedral Hills Hospital in S.F. and Bodega Bay Lodge.
After a life-changing stint on Oahu, Fritsche became focused on ocean conservation. “I experienced the joy of spending a lot of time in Hawaii’s beautiful waters and the sorrow of seeing the damage to the coral reefs and other sea life,” she says. And that passion emanates from her paintings, though in the last year she admits her intention has evolved. “When we were still in lockdown, I was desperate to be outside, and China Camp provided an outlet. I was delighted with the joy I saw there in kids and parents as they played in the water. I became intrigued with the idea of including people in my paintings. I was really thirsty for people connection.” She adds, “With this new work, I’m focusing on the joy inherent when people let their day-to-day cares slip aside as they gather at the seashore. It is a place where we can just be at peace and awaken joy.”