What a Joy: Wellness Weekend at Tenaya Lodge

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Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite is a flat-out beautiful resort in a wonderful setting. Offering the feel of a grand traditional lodge with chic, updated modern comfort, the space is welcoming for families, couples, and anyone who just wants a respite from the vicissitudes of modern life.

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In short, it’s a special place – indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, views of the vast and piney woods, a location just two miles outside the Southern entrance to one of our most popular national parks.

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There are a variety of dining options, from the romantic, upscale Embers to Jackalope’s Bar and Grille, the cozy/cool bar with a surprisingly full menu, and the main dining spot,  the Sierra Restaurant, above. There’s also the Harvest and Grounds deli. Seasonally, there are BBQ, pizza, and outdoor bar areas to enjoy as well.

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There is no lack of activities in and around the hotel, from indoor and outdoor pools to a night walk led by flashlight to the fully appointed spa with sauna, steam room, and treatment rooms. Highly skilled massages, facials, skin treatments – it’s all there, and offered in crisp, modern facilities.

Which brings me to one way to experience this stellar property – through their Wellness Weekend programs which are offered through the spa.  There are several on the hotel’s schedule, one coming right up in November should make the perfect way to take an “ahh” break before the holidays; another in January.

Don’t groan at the idea of “wellness.” This is not your typical diet and exercise package; nor is it an insular stay in the lodge. Combining wonderful meals from bountiful, healthy ingredients with yoga, meditation, massage, and a guided hike, there’s nothing quite like this program out there. We’ve been to spas, to resorts, to retreats, and on backpacking expeditions – this program combines elements of each into one weekend. Its filled but not overfull with activities, and creates a splendidly intimate environment for participants. There’s time for both conversation and contemplation. And perhaps best of all, the program offers a new way to experience the Yosemite Valley, without the hassles of large tourist crowds, parking, or figuring out where and when to take a hike.  Everything is there for you, in a serene, well-packaged event, wrapped up with a bow of pleasure.

 

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Let’s take a look. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, in time to take a tour of the hotel, including it’s view rooms and suites. The great fireplace in the lobby, the seasonal decor around the edges of the main entrance, and the well-landscaped pool have great appeal in and of themselves.

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Afterwards, I headed to the spa, Ascent. My treatment was a hot stone massage. It was a different experience than other hot stone massages I’ve had. There was real focus on problem areas, yet it was a thoughtful, gentle approach that had lasting curative effects. Impressive and intuitive, in short. As mentioned, the spa facility itself is modern and aesthetic, spare and well laid-out,  with all the bells and whistles such as a peaceful relaxation area, hot tea, fruit, and infused water.

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After my massage, a wine and hors d’oeuvres gathering offered a laid-back opportunity to get to know other participants in the weekend; we had expected cheese/crackers/crudites, but instead we were served a variety of stylish mini salads, skewered prawns, scallops, sushi, fruit, fine cheeses, and mini-desserts such as a perfect creme brulee and chocolate mousse. Wines were excellent as well.

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After this event, guests had free time for activities such as that night hike, a hot toddy at the bar, or, our choice, a visit to one of the dining rooms. We went to Embers, which is a standout for presentation, and we were told, a room in which engagements and anniversaries frequently take place.

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Cozy in rich reds, with a fireplace in the middle of the room, the ambiance is perfect for both such occasions, but also simply for a high-end dining experience.

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We shared as astonishing mushroom goulash, an inventive dish packed with flavor, both earthy and somehow delicate.

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We also shared the restaurant’s signature dessert, Bananas Diablo, a take on Bananas Foster, theatrically prepared table-side. A nice balance of flavors, once the sugar and alcohol are caramelized, not too heavy or overtly sweet.

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We rose early for a breakfast buffet in the spa area Waterfall room – aptly named for a lovely, sleek waterfall fountain.

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Once again, expectations were exceeded. Here were overnight cold oats with a wide range of toppings from pepitas to dates and honey; baked avocado halves with a egg inside; fresh juices; a vegetable-rich hash. To take on our upcoming hike, the centerpiece of the weekend, we were given awesome backpacks, a lunch box with our choice of lunch entree, water – and an expandable, reusable water bottle, plus a selection of protein/breakfast bars.

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Then, off we went to meet the driver of the hotel’s tour bus to end all tour busses – a Mercedes model with a retractable roof, cushioned, expandable seats, and a smooth ride.

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Buckled in, we drove 40 minutes into the park and up to the trail head for Sentinel Dome in the Glacier Point area of the park. Along the way, the driver pointed out landmarks along with various flora and fauna. When we arrived at the trailhead, we disembarked for a hike, yoga, and meditation.

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Led by Balanced Rock, a Yosemite-based non-profit, and an extremely zen outfitter, we had three guides who helped us stretch before our hike, guided us on our trail, and once at the top, allowed us plenty of time to simply take in the astonishing view before leading us in yoga and meditation classes.

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The trail itself offers a great introduction to the park. At 2.2 miles round trip and a 400 foot elevation gain, its enough of a challenge over some rocky terrain to make participants feel as if they have accomplished something. This is not a paved loop to Bridal Veil Falls.

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Yet it’s not too difficult to achieve, and the mix of pine shaded trail with granite “steps” is a pleasure to undertake.

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If we were a little winded from the final ascent, that was okay – we could catch our breath while taking in views of Nevada Falls, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan, all at a level that put us visually equidistant from their summits – but with none of the fearsome effort that climbing Half Dome entails.

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While there were other groups of trekkers at the top and along the trail, this was not a crowded destination or path; we were able to take in the awe-inspiring vistas without being a part of the horde which so often clouds and crowds the views in the Valley floor.

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After time for photographs and contemplation, the stretching and exercise of a half hour yoga class was just about perfect for loosening tight calves.

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If you’ve never done a down-dog on a granite rock face or made a sun salutation to sunlight emanating near the crest of El Capitan, then you’re missing out.

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Lunch proved equally special – what a view for an al fresco meal. And we were provided with truly a perfect presentation of quinoa and kale salad, a crisp veggie wrap with Thai peanut dipping sauce,  hummus and house-made chips, and a delicious, chocolatey trail mix. Thoughtful cold packs kept everything in great shape.

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Post picnic, a lovely meditation and reading, accompanied by participants picking a word from a series of “angel cards” and describing how that word resonated, made a lovely transition from the more prosaic pleasure of dining to the spiritual.

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Our meditation leader, Sarin, had also packed a singing bowl, and she sounded it and let us try our hand at making it ring, too. The compact sound bath continued off and on as we descended again, heading back to our bus.

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On the ride home, the roof was opened – a convertible bus in the mountain air, on a sunny fall afternoon – pretty much bliss.

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Back at the lodge, we had a bit of downtime – so we enjoyed a Tenaya Red IPA in the bar, a beer created by a craft brewer in nearby Oakhurst especially for the hotel, with a refreshing, crisp hoppy taste and a slightly citrus notes.

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Next, it was time for a cooking demonstration by the hotel’s executive chef, Fred Clabaugh, and dinner.

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Set up in an airy ballroom, windows open to the woods and hills, diners feasted on fennel soup encased in a light, almost souffle-like bread shell, a silky, splendid hamachi crudo, and a choice of entrees: an exceptionally tender beef prepared inside a baked egg crust or jackfruit in coconut curry, each course served with wine pairings.

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After a short break, it was time for a very relaxing yin yoga class and then – s’mores.

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A fire pit was set up on a patio just outside our yoga classroom; the night was chilly, so we gathered around it, silver stars above us.

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Between hiking, yoga, meditation, and chocolate – we were ready for a great night’s sleep.

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In the morning, we woke up to another, more vigorous yoga class, followed by a second terrific breakfast in the waterfall room. Fruit smoothies such as basil/pineapple, mixed berry, and ginger were incredible; a vegetable egg scramble was perfect.

The only downside to the weekend was leaving the property, although we did cap our trip with a drive into Yosemite Valley where we took in some of the classic lookout points, such as Tunnel View and Bridal Veil Falls – looking up at Sentinel Dome and feeling the thrill of accomplishment for having seen, and spent time drinking in, the park’s beauty from that vantage point.

Each Wellness Weekend is a little different, including outdoor time with yoga, a spa treatment, and other activities. In November, there will be a paint and sip class.

Our take: if you want to actually experience Yosemite, without the crowds, without navigating a trail on your own, and have a weekend that renews you both physically and spiritually, then – look no further.  Wellness Weekend is about mental, spiritual, and physical health, relaxation and invigoration.

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And even without participating in the weekend, Tenaya Lodge is a special place to be.  The hotel’s motto is “roughing it without the rough part” and that pretty much sums it up. From responsibly sourced food to a double silver Leeds certification that marks the hotel as incredibly environmentally conscious, the property truly works hard to offer a superior experience. The rooms are first class, of course, from the beds and linens to the warm red and gold color scheme, leather arm chair, and spacious baths.

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There are 102 rooms in the lodge along with 54 cottage duplex or triplex units and coming soon, there will be 50 stand-alone luxury cabins with their own club house.

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We’ll be back again, perhaps to experience the holidays at the lodge when we understand a wild-harvested 35 foot topped Douglas fir is lit in the lobby. The fall theme during our stay was itself an epic taste of seasonal decor.

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Honestly, from our experience, any season would be the right season to visit Tenaya –  and take in a Wellness Weekend.

Don’t miss the upcoming November 3-5 Wellness Weekend Event.  On the calendar now for 2018:  January 12-14, with more dates currently being planned.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

Alice Esposito: Film Festival Winner for The Mockingbird That Fell from The Highest Branch

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Italian-born and Los Angeles-based, Alice Esposito is an award winning photographer and filmmaker,  with several film festival success stories in her quiver. Now she’s celebrating a recent win for her short The Mockingbird That Fell from The Highest Branch, which just won Best Comedy at The Prince of Prestige Academy Awards.

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The film is a black and white silent comedy inspired by cinema classics such as Fellini’s La Strada, and the comedy of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The story: “A cynical, socially inept Mime lives a life of tiny distractions. Yet, even indulging in his smallest fantasies drives him to fits of rage and despair. A chance encounter with the woman of his dreams compels him into a series of humorously tragic attempts at wooing her.”

Esposito says her choice of creating a silent film project was a highly personal one. 

“Recently I became hard of hearing, and I had to adapt my way of communicating and understanding other people. Not only did I start to learn sign language but I had to rely more and more on my other senses. In doing so, I started to pay attention more to the expressions and gestures of the people that I was talking to, the little ticks, peculiar traits, and the body language of a person became some of the most important elements of communication for me, more than the spoken language. This movie was born from a need to represent my personal process, an extreme exaggeration of my experience, a way to go back to basic communication,” she reports.

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Esposito is also a huge fan of Fellini, Chaplin, and Keaton.

​ “Being Italian, my roots reside in the classics of Italian Cinema. I remember watching “La Strada” with my family when I was very young so my understanding of it wasn’t as accurate and full as now. Re-watching it after so many years, I got different aspects and layers of the movie that escaped me during my childhood. Chaplin and Keaton were amazing, complete artists. I feel like they had a magical way to show you the tragic pain that is love and life, leaving you almost longing for these conflicting feelings.” She adds “I think my love for them comes from their approach to life and art and how they were able to pass it to the audience. Their works have different layers, and especially Chaplin, has a way to sneak behind you after a big laugh and show you the truth of life. I think the best comedy is a sad comedy – something that both makes you laugh and think at the same time.”

The evocative title was one of the most difficult aspects of completing the production, she relates. ​”I remember I was in the car with the main actor, Phil Ristaino, and we started to throw titles around… I recalled that in Italian the mockingbird is also called ‘the mime’ and this bird is known for mimicking the songs of other birds and the sounds of insects. This is how it started to come together. Also, for me, being in love is like being above every physical experience I know, but at the same time when you heart gets broken the impact to the ground is hard. You could say the title serves to represent this feeling with a tragic romanticism and a pinch of irony in it.”

Esposito notes that this film was for her a passage, moving her on to the next step in her storytelling and style. “It was something that I needed to say and see. All my projects change drastically from one to another; I’m very eclectic about my style and my stories. I think my work is in constant change; for me, each story, each project requires a different visual, a different approach.”

In regard to her approach, the director explains that she’s is fascinated by the Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence, mono no aware.

“One director that was able to visualize this concept was Yasujirō Ozu. I love his appreciation and understanding of simplicity. We tend as humans to make a big deal of everything, but I feel like the answer is in the purity of things…You can see this especially in how I move the camera; I tend to keep everything simple almost static. Sometimes the moving camera deteriorates the composition. Coming from a background in painting and photography that is something very important to me.”

Esposito loves working in the short form, and playing with a sense of time. With The Mockingbird That Fell From The Highest Branch she says “There is not much evidence, especially in the beginning, to where and when we are, and there’s not much technology used in this movie. Only with the last few frames do you get an idea of when and where you are.” That said, she plans to work on a feature soon.

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This film is very much a tour de force for her lead actor, who she met in a San Francisco coffee shop six years ago. “We discovered we’d moved to LA at the same time. I always loved his work. I’m so honored and grateful for his continuous artistic collaboration. He is an outstanding actor and incredible comedian. We really understand each other. I think to find, not only an actor, but a person who understands you on so many levels, is a rare kind of magic.”

The tragi-comedy nature of the film is a delicate balance, one that starts with a personal perception of the world. She believes her long term collaboration with Ristaino made this easier to obtain in Mockingbird.

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“We have a similar way of looking at the world and people around us, so to transmit this idea on screen was very natural. Nothing you see was forced or pushed; I wanted this balance to feel organic. Personally I think this perception that I have of the world came from my family and was heightened by events that happened to me this last year. My mother passed away and this completely changed my vision of the world.” According to Esposito, both of her parents taught her every aspect of life and “that everything has layers. Not all that is sad is sad and all that is happy is happy; it’s a subtle balance, that either you have or you don’t. Luckily I was able to show this on screen with actors that could understand this process.”

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The project, for all its delicate thematic and visual beauty was shot in a compact three days across Los Angeles, from Eagle Rock to Malibu.

“I shot it with a Canon 5D Mark III with a 50mm lens and I adapted an old 35mm lens from the 60’s that my father gave me. It really gave the movie a classic feeling.”

While product was swift, post-production took substantially longer, almost a year. “I had amazing people on my team both from Italy and the USA. The composers Davide Alberto Centolani and Simone Anichini were phenomenal. We worked with an ocean between us, and they pulled off a soundtrack that gave the movie the mood and texture that you can’t miss. Sometimes I just put the music on repeat – it’s just magical!”

Readers can view this magic here 

  • Genie Davis; Photos provided by Alice Esposito

Trees in Wolves’ Clothing: Powerful, Personal, Provoking

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With Trees in Wolves’ Clothing, now through October 13th at the Garboushian Gallery in Beverly Hills, Curtis Weaver offers a whimsical yet thought-provoking look at nature. Call them tree portraits, Weaver’s sculptures compare and contrast nature, man-made objects, and the power of humans to alter our natural world.  His view of evolutionary biology is fascinating, but even more so is purely alive quality of his mysterious, strange, absorbing work.

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Weaver says “The accentuation of the connection we have to other living things has been a constant in my work for quite some time, and my overall interest in evolutionary biology.  I became fascinated by the similarities between trees and human circulatory and respiratory systems after seeing the Bodies exhibition at a science museum in Tampa, Florida back in 2005.  There were these amazing pieces where they had injected different groups and in some cases entire human bodies of blood vessels with a very luminous resin.  They washed away the rest of the body mass with acid, leaving only the vessels displayed in bright red resin.  I was completely amazed by this- being able to see the complete contours of the body represented only by tiny, stringy and frail blood vessels.  I was reading a lot of big-history, geological timeline type literature, and Darwin’s Origin of Species at the time.  I soon began focusing on trees and their function on the Earth–  thinking of the Earth as an entity much like an individual organism with many moving parts, made up of millions of smaller organisms.  Like a giant spherical animal, I suppose.  That was the first time it really hit me how much the structural similarities of all these things were also echoed in their physiological functions.”

 

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Weaver began creating work by building fictional and absurd but slightly plausible ecosystems comprised of biological relationships between the characters which operated in a co-dependence web, similar to in the real world.  “These installations were like still-captured moments depicted by three-dimensional figures- much like a museum diorama you could walk through. The scenarios were meant to be informative and educational, but at the same time completely preposterous and goofy.”
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When he began working on Trees in Wolves’ Clothing he wanted to be direct, and employ a narrative that resonates with viewers, drawing them into the gallery with
“something cute in the gallery windows” which upon entering the main space “turns into something similar, but larger and more grotesque.”
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Weaver says “I think much of it was fueled by our current political climate, or maybe it was always there within me, but as of recent I had been feeling a bit more angsty and stirred up. The blatant negligence I see from our current presidential administration on environmental issues fueled a lot of my recent inspiration. Social issues hit hard, and even though I have my opinions on them, I accept that for numerous reasons, whether through ignorance, or just flat out bigotry, people get caught up in their own bubbles. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. It doesn’t perplex me. With that being said, nothing heats me up and baffles me more than seeing someone in a position of such high authority – with ample support from the public –  making astronomical decisions that catastrophically affect not just our nation, but the physical well-being of the entire planet.”
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The artist adds “This is where I decided, if I’m going to make sculpture about the mentality that humans reign supreme over the earth through exploiting similarities between humans and other organisms, why not use the actual organisms? Why not use the actual trees? …it is meant to strike a nerve.  It is meant to trigger thoughts and awareness of the biological connections between us humans and the rest of nature.”
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And so Weaver set to work using natural materials.  “A big part of these sculptures was the method of sculpting, being more of a reassembling of objects rather than a carving or shaping of a material. It was very important to me to only render the color and sheen with transparent finishes, letting the natural shape, texture and contrast sing through the surface and provide the visual relationship I was looking for.
I needed to get these things into pieces, so they needed to be broken or cut.”
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“You will notice everywhere something is cleanly cut there is a blood-vessel looking branch growing out.  The cross-cuts I felt also paired nicely with the pieces resembling hanging meat- accentuating the connection between not only the physicality of the wood to animal flesh, but processes we see as familiar with both, especially from a commodification perspective.  Harvested cut logs and harvested cut animal parts.”
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 The character in each individual piece is one of the most unique aspects of this work. Weaver says he was able to “establish an overall aesthetic with a blurred finish line that I could decide upon spontaneously.  And even more so, with quite a few of these pieces, the shape, form and detail of the found branch would have very much to say about how and why I would transform it.  For instance, Trunkated was one of the earliest pieces.  The splitting sections of bark repelling away from each other like the Pangea into the continents as we know them today caught my attention…and the fact that it pretty much looks like an elephant’s trunk!  I experimented with getting bright visceral looking pigments into the cracks without disrupting the surface of the bark, wanting it to look like some kind of metamorphosis happening under the surface that you can see, but not completely see.”
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For Weaver, one of his favorite parts about creating these works was the fact that he used natural substances to shape them. “I love the fact that instead of using gallons and gallons of toxic resins and hazardous processes I was able to pull these tree parts that were otherwise headed for a dumpster or burn pile, or maybe just left on location to rot or burn, and with 99% water-based surface treatments transform them into my favorite body of work to date.”
See for yourselves! Garboushian Gallery is located at 427 N. Camden in Beverly Hills.
Genie Davis; photos: courtesy of the artist, and Genie Davis

 

Fabrik Projects Gallery: Elevating the La Cienega Scene with California Rising

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With the launch of a new gallery on La Cienega’s gallery row in Culver City, Fabrik Projects Gallery is stepping off the printed page and firmly into the gallery scene with California Rising. The inaugural exhibit features contemporary art by 42 emerging and mid-career artists, most of whom live and work in the Golden State.

Curator and gallerist Chris Davies has assembled an eclectic exhibition that ranges from whimsical resins to inventive mixed media constructions and avant-garde paintings.  

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Jane Szabo’s lustrous photographs of personal family objects – still life work taken from her haunting Family Matters series – is represented with her “Fortitude.”

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Stuart Kusher’s “Fragment,” a gorgeous golden wing sculpture is as rich as it’s material.

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Megan Frances’ perfectly abstract tender green tendrils in her “Fleur de Lys 6,” above.

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Nancy R. Wise’s “Purple Mountain Majesty,” a brilliant, pastel-colored vision of a California freeway in a dream, is another standout.

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Working acrylic on canvas, Astrid Francis’ “Starry Nights,” above, is a non-representational, complex, and finely detailed work with bold,  brightly hued creatures populating a rich backdrop of dandelion.

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“Inner Space,” by fine art photographer Richard S. Chow, contrasts the vivid color of Francis’ work with his strongly composed black and white abstract exploring the interplay of light and space. The photograph is reminiscent of charcoal or graphite drawings. 

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Sarah Hadley’s sensual “Desire Under the Trees”  features a sharply focused pair of woman’s legs, a recurring theme in Hadley’s work. This complex composite image features foliage, flowers and evergreens, all disquietingly echoing the image of the legs. 

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Betsy Enzenberger’s whimsical Mini Pops & Ice Cream Cones sculptural series challenges ideas of transience with resin sweets as classic symbols of an ephemeral childhood that will not melt away.

Fabrik Projects Gallery brings together a mix of paintings, photography, and sculpture in a show that vibrates with the color, hope, and resilience that does indeed mark the rising fortunes of California’s thrilling art scene. 

CALIFORNIA RISING
2636 S. La Cienega Blvd. Los Angeles, CA.
September 9 – October 16, 2017

Lisa Broadway with Genie Davis; photos by Lisa Broadway, Genie Davis, courtesy of the gallery, courtesy of Richard Chow