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string theory: Thiermann's portrait of bookbinder and papermaker Jody Alexander is a study in concentration.

The Female Gaze

Santa Cruz painter Ann Thiermann turns her creative eye on women artists in a show at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at UCSC.

By Christina Waters

PERHAPS best known for her high-key colors, historic murals and consummate plein-air pastels, Ann Thiermann is a tireless connoisseur of other people's artwork--especially of the vibrant variety of women's artwork. Putting her considerable energies where her personal commitments lie, Thiermann has just finished an ambitious series of original pieces, "Visual Conversations with Women in the Arts," which will be on exhibit at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery through Dec. 4.

The twist is this: the show of Thiermann's portraits will be displayed along with the objects and implements of her subjects' artmaking. A multimedia bouquet of visuals, artifacts, sound and digitized offerings will accompany the 20 pastel and acrylic portraits of outstanding local artists in the midst of their work.

Many of these richly wrought images, created over a four-year period, are particularly striking in their ability to capture the poses and settings in which the artists work. Even the expression of being lost in the creative process is captured by Thiermann, for example in the evocative portrait of clay sculptor Christianna Hunnicutt.

It was well-known weaver Ann Dizikes, as Thiermann recalls, who inspired the new show. "I did a portrait of Ann in 2005, and it was displayed next to her weavings at an Open Studio tour," she says. The portrait and the weavings seemed to complete each other. "So I thought, why not do more--a series?"

She began to choose women she admired to be the next subjects, and the list grew. "Most of the pieces are pastels," Thiermann notes, "although not all." Thiermann's lighting is intimate and personal, as are the poses of her subjects. We see Dizikes absorbed in her work, about to add strands to cloth on her loom. A dramatic limited palette shows lacemaker Margaret More absorbed in her intricate craft.

The posing often required several sessions, Thiermann explains. "Tandy [Beal] started moving and dancing when I came to visit, and I just photographed for an hour." That process, in turn, gave way to another component of the show: a DVD of Beal dancing. Since Thiermann is a pianist and organist, musical artists were included as well. "There will be headsets next to many of the portraits," she says, "so you can listen to them perform."

Drawing up a list that would include a balance of women from various fields--musicians, sculptors, lacemakers, dancers, metalworkers, ceramicists--Thiermann then approached Smith Gallery director Linda Pope, who had already expressed interest in showing her work. "She's the curator, so she could have picked and chosen, but in the end Linda decided to include all of the artists I had done."

Thiermann says all of the past four years of inspiration have come together in a show even more substantial than she had bargained for. In fact, the show will travel in March to the Pajaro Valley Art Gallery in Watsonville. Beyond that, who knows? "I am working on a grant to have it exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts," she says.

Those intrigued by Thiermann's images will be interested in the Nov. 8 John Dizikes concert at Cowell College Dining Hall. Music She Wrote will be performed by musicians showcased in the Smith Gallery show.

VISUAL CONVERSATIONS WITH WOMEN IN THE ARTS is at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at Cowell College, UCSC, through Dec. 4, Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm. Reception is Sunday, Oct. 25, 2-4pm; 831.459.2953.

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