Home is where the art is

Local husband-wife artists Nate Cassie and Ethel Shipton tap into the community for their first joint show, currently on display at Palo Alto College’s new Gallery 100. The inspiration for What Are You Doing? says Cassie, is place and community. As for the offbeat title, it refers to the couple’s separate workplaces, office spaces, and studio spaces. Since neither Shipton nor Cassie know what the other was doing work-wise, this title was fitting for their artistic life.

Cassie invites patrons into the gallery space — the temporary community of observers — with four charcoal-on-paper sketches. The drawings, which Cassie calls “conceptual manifestation,” were adapted from photos taken during 1994-95. All four sketchings draw in the viewer due to their detailed display of subjects — especially “Mark,” who is drawn in a more erratic manner that reflects the subject’s angry mood: mid-motion, clenched hands. Cassie captures his model’s intensity with long, quick strokes. The placement of the pieces, disconcertingly high on the wall, is also worth noting. It feels a little awkward as you first enter the space, but I agree with Cassie’s feeling that it creates a “more monumental presence.”

Alone and off-center in the space, a carved-pecan drawing table titled “Be careful what you wish for” provides an interesting focal point. The table once served as Cassie’s actual work station; it’s littered with paint drips that add character to the dramatic sketchings hanging behind it. Cassie considers the table a “physical manifestation of the passage of time.” Additional wood carvings underneath the desk add a whimsical feel. The title plays with the illusion of a dream-like world.

Shipton most likely utilized leftover vinyl scraps from her September 2003 show Feminizing Forms? with Analia Segal for this installation. Her cute-as-a-studded-button seven-piece set “The Neighborhood” recreates a small neighborhood with upholstery vinyl and studs outlining the edges of the trim on each piece. The puffy houses arrayed on the wall bring the entire sense of community alive. Shipton admits that the pieces are reminiscent of the commune-like environment of Southtown gallery Sala Diaz and its surrounding art spaces. Sala Diaz is an unusually tight-knit artist haven that is credited by many for establishing a group of supportive artists that are a welcoming bunch.

“Inside/Outside” is a simple vinyl-on-wood two-piece set that brings to mind Unit B’s recent Landscapes vs. Netscapes show (especially
Joseph Philips’ large-scale “greenscapes”). The red-and-white color combo is perfect for the inversion of the pieces. The colors contrast with Shipton’s other works and allow the viewer to see a different, bolder, side of her works.

“Four Casitas,” an ode to Shipton’s hometown, Laredo, is a four-piece embroidery set that displays a series of houses, from a house in mid-development to a log cabin. The color choice here is also excellent — a nice combination of olive, royal blue, gray, and a dark off-teal. The pieces appear to be a bit wrinkled, which is irksome, but aside from that small flaw the set works well.

Cassie’s conceptual pieces and Shipton’s quirky methods complement each other well. The charcoal drawings bring a much-needed human presence to a show focused on community,while the vinyl puffy houses evoke the essence of a neighborhood — and the color palette is a nice choice for a neighborhood that is meant to resemble the King William/Southtown historic district.



What Are You Doing?
9am-5pm Mon-Fri
Through Feb 22
Gallery 100
Fine Arts Building,
Palo Alto College
1400 W. Villaret
(210) 921-5345