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Valley Focus exhibit highlights local artists
Benhissen art
Louisa Benhissen, Paths of the Merced River Central Valley, CA, oil on canvas.

Four local educators helping guide the next generation of artists will have their own creative viewpoint represented in the new Carnegie Arts Center exhibit, Valley Focus.

Valley Focus: 4 Perspectives will showcase the works of Louisa Benhissen (Merced College), Chelsea Gilmore (Modesto Junior College), Susan Stephenson (CSU Stanislaus), and Mirabel Wigon (CSU Stanislaus).

“Once again, we have the opportunity to highlight the very best work being created in and about our region,” said Carnegie Arts Center Director Lisa McDermott. “For the past 10 years we have honored Central Valley artists through solo shows and small group exhibitions. It’s important that we continue to celebrate artists who are educators shaping the future of the arts in the Central Valley.  It is an honor to continue this tradition with another exciting and instructive show.”

Benhissen has been teaching at Merced College since 2009 and in 2015 she became the co-chair for the College’s Fine and Performing Arts Department. She has been a curator for the Merced Multicultural Arts Center since 2016.

Benhissen said she strives to have her paintings convey a narrative element and finds inspiration in the interactions between people.

“My subject matter started with every day, American society and culture in California suburbia – its inhabitants’ anxieties, repressed emotions and subcultures, as seen through my foreign eyes,” said Benhissen, who was born in London and traveled extensively in Africa.

Gilmore has been teaching art at Modesto Junior College since 2016. Her artistic eye is drawn to the decay and ruin of once solid forms.

“My paintings capture the crumbling interiors and dilapidated remains of once concrete forms,” Gilmore said. “Photos of broken down and abandoned buildings are used to create abstractions that explore the relationship between structure and destabilization. From these images different applications of oil paint transforms the photo foundation into a looser representation that shifts from clear to ambiguous. Marks, glazes and layers are placed not to precisely replicate of the original structure but as an abstract interpretation of real world forms. I hope to get across the visually engrossing qualities that these places of ruin contain by carefully selecting what to keep, what to take out and how to arrange the composition.”

Stephenson has been an associate professor at Stanislaus State since 2017. Her panoramic oil paintings are developed from direct observation of the everyday scenery she comes across in her life and is transform through her use of light and color.

“Every day scenery is fodder for my paintings,” Stephenson said. “Navigating a line between attraction and unease, I am torn between the lovely places that appeal to collectors and locations that some might find un-paintable. Traffic lights and stop signs inspire me, as does the way sunlight hits the “do not pass” lines in the road. Instead of pretending that electric lines are nonexistent, I use them to break the sky into visual patterns, letting them catch the light and become orange against the blue dome of the atmosphere. Every day, people are bombarded with chances to see beauty in the mundane yet sleepwalk past them. Rather than wait a hundred years for our culture to look back wistfully at some of the things we currently overlook, I prefer to show their beauty right now - why wait?”

Wigon has been an assistant professor at Stanislaus State since 2021 and her preferred works are large-scale landscapes.

“The world we live in is contingent on, and influenced by, massively unpredictable systems that define an understanding of space, place, and depth,” Wigon said. “My paintings are a conglomeration of signs, where the accumulation of imagery and painted layers creates a perplexing and tenuous notion of the “whole” built from many discrete fragments of perception.”

McDermott said these educators and artists offer students the opportunity to explore a variety of viewpoints and fresh perspectives.

“In their individual ways, they each take representation – including how they depict space and spatial relationships – in a unique or challenging direction,” McDermott said. “Our connections to people and places are presented from surprising and distinctive angles. Visitors to the exhibition will be inspired to look closely and have creative conversations about what they see.”

The exhibit opened Tuesday and will continue through May 13. A reception for the artists is set for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 24. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $7 general, $5 students and seniors; free for CAC members, children, and Stan State students.