A Change of Art

Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios Self-guided Tour runs 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 17. For more information call (510) 845-2612 or visit www.berkeleyartisans.com.





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Upon first glance, the dingy, weather-worn buildings along 8th Street seem an unlikely mecca for artistic expression. The small art studios hidden in the bowels of the buildings are usually closed to the public, allowing 8th Street artists and artisans to work in quiet solitude.

But in the true spirit of sharing, artists from not just 8th street, but all of Berkeley have opened up their studios to the public as part of this month's Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios Self-guided Tour.

The Open Studios Tour, organized by local artist Susan Brooks, gives over 100 professional artists and craftspeople in Berkeley the opportunity to showcase their work, while giving culture-starved locals a place slightly classier than Telegraph to view and purchase truly unique creations.

Many of the artists have charmingly tried to recreate the gallery experience by draping clean sheets over equipment, putting fresh flowers in every corner, setting out delicate cookies and sparkling mineral water and playing soothing music on home stereos. Indeed, the atmosphere is lovely and intimate, with the artists themselves often standing several feet away.

Of particular interest is the studio displaying the works of Joolia Jamison Harper, Alana Clearlake and Julia Cohn. Visitors are free to pet Harper's golden retriever as they look through her delicately painted silk scarves, one of which was inspired by a friend's earring.

Clearlake's enamel jewelry is truly incredible, with soft colors of ground glass set in curling webs of metal. Although Clearlake's creations look like they should be curving around the swan-like necks of Versace models, the dramatic designs make anybody's neck look quite beautiful.

One can also view Cohn's dreamy watercolors, which range in subject from melancholy cantaloupes and cherries to smooth landscapes.

"For me, watercolor is like a conversation," Cohn said. "The movement of the water is exciting because you don't have complete control over it."

Perhaps the most delightful aspect of the Open Studios Self-guided Tour is the opportunity to schmooze with the artists. Almost all of them are really friendly and enthusiastic about explaining how they were inspired to create a particular piece or about sharing funny stories about their lives before art. Eighth street jewelry-maker Alison Antelman, who creates beautiful handmade, asymmetrical necklaces with names like "Explosion in Kelp Forest" and "Tropical Berkeley," explained that creating the jewelry is a very personal experience for her.

"This piece was inspired by a really hot day in the studio," she said, pointing out the flamboyant pineapple-like design of the "Tropical Berkeley" necklace. "I was thinking about large pitchers of pink lemonade and cool pineapple slices."

Antelman shares with visitors the story of a particular necklace that she was soldering when a piece of the metal exploded. Luckily, Antelman avoided injury even though she wasn't wearing safety goggles. Thankful that nothing truly horrible happened, she fixed a piece of gold with a diamond in the hollow space that the explosion had made.

Some of the pieces are absolutely breathtaking. Artist Janet Berrien's paintings of California landscapes seem to quiver with lives of their own because of the risky opposing colors and thick brushstrokes. Painter Marco Vangelisti, who shares a studio with Berrien, has a highly abstract and dramatic style where the painting appears in shard-like pieces and thick oil paint lends a three-dimensional effect.

Many of the pieces are fun and original, like Kandace Norwood Rupert's "labor-intensive" mirrors with birdseed-coated frames and little fake birds on the top. Rupert, who jokes that she must have been an architect in a previous life, also has created little pastel-colored tin houses that seem to have personalities of their own.

The studios also include numerous blown-glass artisans who create the glass in front of visitors. Craftsman Jody Fine redefines the typical view of blown glass with his whimsical, '50s-style, lime green blown glass blender. One of Fine's most fantastic creations would have to be his "marble pie" - a pastry made of glass marbles with swirling insides and opaque glass for the "dough."

Eighth street also includes Gail Cohen's Asian-inspired cool blue and mint green porcelain dishes, Jiri Minarik's pottery depicting playful pictures of fat women, cats and fish, Josh Bach's barbeque-printed ties and Margaret Wade's haunting nudes.

But 8th street contains only five of the 30 locations featured in the Open Studios Tour, which leaves a wealth of possibilities for anyone who is tired of Telegraph and wants to explore something more artistic and stimulating than cheesy, overpriced tie-dyed T-shirts.

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