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Fantastic planet

Painter Sarah Jorgensen inhabits a surreal wonderland between the natural and the man-made

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Sarah Jorgensen’s dream job is to be Earth’s ambassador to the aliens.

SYNTHETIC LANDSCAPE:  Sarah Jorgensen's acrylic painting LAND (pictured) is part of a small but awesome exhibit at Kevin Main Jewelry. - PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • SYNTHETIC LANDSCAPE: Sarah Jorgensen's acrylic painting LAND (pictured) is part of a small but awesome exhibit at Kevin Main Jewelry.

It’s perfect, she explains at our interview, perhaps one of the only positions that would truly make use of her aptitude for science, language, sports, music, gardening, and the visual arts. An artist who majored in ecology and evolutionary biology, Jorgensen is one of those people who seems good at everything, a collector of skills as wide-ranging as climbing, guitar, Spanish, and crafting one’s own version of Nutella. If the position of “spokeswoman for the human race” ever opens up, well, she will be ready. If not, she adds, she would settle for being a talk show host.

The same unique blend of pragmatic realism and uninhibited fantasy runs through Jorgensen’s current show of paintings, which hangs at Kevin Main Jewelry in downtown San Luis Obispo. Motifs of nature and industry are threaded through with bright surrealist touches: lush emerald grass grows on one facet of a giant, multicolored jewel in the acrylic work LAND; Built Up places nonsensical signage against a vibrantly blue sky, packed ambitiously with little rainbows.

I can’t seem to find a good time to reveal that I actually went to high school with Jorgensen—and that it actually feels deeply bizarre to refer to her as “Jorgensen.” It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized she could paint.

Pristine pallets of sharply cut lumber, dully illuminated in fluorescent lighting, stand in contrast to a single gnarled stump in the foreground of What would be. We wonder, which part is sadder? Or, perhaps, which is more beautiful?

The exhibit, modest in scope with a mere six pieces, marks Jorgensen’s first. (That is, outside of student exhibitions such as last month’s at the Cuesta College Art Gallery, juried by Sky Bergman, where a piece by Jorgensen won “Best Painting.”) But these few works are arresting nonetheless. Her geometric, jewel-like shapes, as in Meteor and Balloon, seem to talk back at the venue’s pretty displays, advertising the perfect ring for the love of your life on your special day.

- THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SARAH JORGENSEN: - • Dream jobs: alien ambassador, talk show host   - • Preferred way to die: being eaten by a shark or a mountain lion  - • Heroes: Salvador Dali, Jane Goodall  - • Exhibiting work at: Kevin Main Jewelry—720 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo—through June. -
  • THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SARAH JORGENSEN: • Dream jobs: alien ambassador, talk show host

    • Preferred way to die: being eaten by a shark or a mountain lion

    • Heroes: Salvador Dali, Jane Goodall

    • Exhibiting work at: Kevin Main Jewelry—720 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo—through June.

Though her work comments on the dichotomy between the natural and the man-made, Jorgensen sees herself less as an activist and more as an impassive observer. Though their themes may be heavy, several of her works have an almost giddy quality, what with their flamboyant colors, blocky shapes, and unexpected, surreal composition. They feel even—is it wrong to say?—hip, like the album art for an electronica band from Sweden.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking piece in the show is a work titled She will be dung in the fields, a painting that resulted from an art class with Cuesta instructor David Prochaska. The prompt was, Jorgensen recalls, “to paint everything you ever wanted to paint in a painting,” which for her meant depicting a nude woman lying in a field, chest pressed toward the sky, as buzzards circle overhead. Lazy sunlight glints through the stick arms of a dead tree, creating a dark silhouette. A large snake curls at the woman’s feet.

“People react to that painting in really weird ways,” Jorgensen says. “People don’t know what to say. That painting came out of a very intense reflection on my life.”

It was the first piece she created after a sojourn in India, the artist explains. Adjusting to another culture—one considerably less put off, she noticed, by little reminders of human mortality—caused her to think deeply upon death, vulnerability, and the human connection to the Earth: that the planet nourishes us and that, eventually, our bodies return the favor. Americans seem to have trouble accepting this cycle, however. We would rather believe we are a few degrees removed from nature; a country populated by demigods. Becoming part of nature frightens us.

“People don’t like that, but I think it’s beautiful. I’ve always thought”—here she laughs, the way she does, I’ve noticed, when preparing the listener to hear something shocking—“I would not mind dying by getting eaten by something, like a shark or a mountain lion.”

Spoken like a true evolutionary biologist.

Turned artist.

Turned alien ambassador.

Arts Editor Anna Weltner is a unicorn ambassador. Send gilded horns to aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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