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Energy and emotion: Morro Bay Art Association's Flower Power exhibit flows from erotic to peaceful, chaotic to introspective

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A gigantic lotus blooms in shades of pink. Oversized petals crafted from oil on canvas loom behind the delicate structure of a live orchid providing shade to a woman sculpted from Raku clay.

Her silent form lounges beneath the ikebana style arrangement, staring past dozens of botanicals and through Art Center Morro Bay's ceiling. Lotus by Rachel Lee and You Belong to Only To Yourself by Anne Grannis are simply the corner of the Flower Power garden, which holds 240 pieces from artists between Cambria and Nipomo.

FULL BLOOM Rachel Lee's enormous Georgia O'Keeffe style oil painting, Iris, greets Flower Power exhibit viewers as they enter the Morro Bay Art Center. - IMAGES COURTESY OF BARBARA SITAR
  • Images Courtesy Of Barbara Sitar
  • FULL BLOOM Rachel Lee's enormous Georgia O'Keeffe style oil painting, Iris, greets Flower Power exhibit viewers as they enter the Morro Bay Art Center.

"It's so overwhelming in terms of how much art came in," Art Center Gallery Director Barbara Sitar said. "This show is so far the largest show in terms of the amount of art that we've ever had here. And that was unexpected."

Sitar attributes the outpouring of entries to how hungry people are to connect and the fact that many galleries don't currently have shows or exhibits up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Flower Power show was originally scheduled to go up in January, which was the peak of the latest virus surge, so the Morro Bay Art Association postponed the show's start date to mid-February.

Artists, Sitar said, often have a high internal sensibility and a tribe of like-minded people around them, which creates that sense of community—something that's been missing. So she hopes the show gives artists and the community a chance to feel that connection again.

"In the healthy times, this place is very alive every single day. There are workshops going on and demos, you know, painting together and being together. This is the closest to it. Now, the artworks that are representing the artists are being close to each other, are talking to each other, are creating this amazingly wonderful vibe," Sitar said. "So that collaborative energy is still here."

SUNFLOWERS FOR DAYS Larry Kappen's Green Man hangs out upstairs at the Morro Bay Art Center, joining fellow sunflower pieces as part of the Flower Power show. - IMAGES COURTESY OF BARBARA SITAR
  • Images Courtesy Of Barbara Sitar
  • SUNFLOWERS FOR DAYS Larry Kappen's Green Man hangs out upstairs at the Morro Bay Art Center, joining fellow sunflower pieces as part of the Flower Power show.

It's alive in the flowers that Cal Coast Orchids from Los Osos donated to the ikebana portion of the exhibit. The formal art of Japanese flower arranging finds companions in sculptures, crystals, bird nests, and wood as you walk through the Art Center's front door. Dwarfed by immense Georgia O'Keeffe-style flowers on one wall and fantasy floral scenes on another, the mixed media pieces in the show are as varied as the artists themselves.

Sitar pointed out Deegan Brooke's Herbarium, an arrangement of plastic flowers behind glass. A commentary on the plastic flower industry, the young artist includes made-up botanical names such as "Toxicus bullshitempus" and "Corpus cadaver pathetica." Ethereal mixed media paintings of naked women surrounded by flowers such as Rachael Wahl's Girl With a Jade Earring encircle Dennis Curry's detailed serigraph of flowers in a vase, Ikebana I.

MORE THAN IKEBANA Red anthurium and crystals tuck into wood as part of Evert Lucero's take on Japanese flower arranging, Tears of Daenerys, which starts off Flower Power's 240 piece show. - IMAGES COURTESY OF BARBARA SITAR
  • Images Courtesy Of Barbara Sitar
  • MORE THAN IKEBANA Red anthurium and crystals tuck into wood as part of Evert Lucero's take on Japanese flower arranging, Tears of Daenerys, which starts off Flower Power's 240 piece show.

Flower Power is designed around the pieces themselves. Sitar said they accepted every entry dropped off during the take-in period. In curating it, she worked to place the art so that it all flowed together. And similar to the collaboration she mentioned earlier, the pieces that are arranged together support one another.

"I create like-themed families so that when you walk through the gallery, it has a logic that is subconsciously perceived. You don't realize how much intentional work goes into it," Sitar said. "Creating a composition that needs to have the right proportions. The right dynamic. That makes sense even if you don't realize it. And subconsciously, actually leads you through the whole stage and lets your emotions be inspired."

As you walk up the stairs to the second floor of the gallery, the amount of work on the walls is almost overpowering. Quickly, one area pulls the eye: Still life paintings of flowers in vases, on tables, in a market surround surreal pieces connected by splashes of white in 3D.

FLOWER POWER Jimi Hendrix stars in Morro Bay Art Center Gallery Director Barbara Sitar's piece, Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky. - IMAGES COURTESY OF BARBARA SITAR
  • Images Courtesy Of Barbara Sitar
  • FLOWER POWER Jimi Hendrix stars in Morro Bay Art Center Gallery Director Barbara Sitar's piece, Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky.

"Three super dreamy artists that are all vibing the same way," Sitar said. "So this all suddenly creates one piece, and it's a very dreamy contemporary piece, and it's contrasted by several classical pieces."

Next up on the garden walk is a wall of sunflowers, followed by the larger-than-life stylings of Hilary Saner's New Moon—a vivid bouquet of yellow, red, and white—and psychedelic abstract textures that Sitar describes as "rip your guts out." Fused glass flowers and stained glass round out the room before leading back down the stairs. The energy is palpable, and emotionally the exhibit is a bit of a ride. It's beauty and peace. Eroticism and chaos. Happiness and loss. Fantasy and reality.

Just as Sitar wants it to be. It's her way of connecting the viewers to the artists and allowing the full breadth of emotion to shine through. And hopefully, she said, giving the community a place where they can feel alive and connected with each other.

Psychologically, she said, humans are ill-equipped to deal with the moment we are living in. The prolonged nature of the pandemic. Uncertainty and fear. Loss and loneliness.

"But, you know—art, throughout the centuries—art is a force, art is a power, art is a way to get out of a stagnant space and into an open mind space, and you never know what you can find there," she said. "We never had times like these where we would need an artistic outlet more than now." Δ

Editor Camillia Lanham is painting camellias in the basement. Send arts tips to clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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