Christine So

Time Spent Among Trees

March 9 – April 27, 2024

Come meet the artist on Saturday, March 9, 2024 from 1:00 – 3:00 P.M. at the Firehouse Arts Center.

The Firehouse Arts Center is excited to present the solo exhibition of Christine So, Time Spent Among Trees. Christine So is a painter, printmaker and photographer living in the Oakland hills across the bay from her hometown, San Francisco. She is best known for her blue and white cyanotype forests shrouded in fog. She captures the soft light and quiet of the fog-hushed woods and transports the viewer to that place of calm. Through the pandemic and losing her husband suddenly in 2022, these beautiful familiar Monterey pines have been a source of comfort. Recurring themes in her landscapes are the journey, the bend in the road, the unknown, sunrise, and morning light.

She has worked in a dozen mediums across the decades, cycling back and forth between painting to printmaking to cyanotype, applying techniques and things learned from one medium to the other. She discovered printmaking– woodcuts, linocuts, etching, monoprinting–decades ago when studying in Madrid as a student. Her love of monochrome and her love of trees are both lifelong affairs. Whether it’s painting, printmaking, or photography, her work is always nature-inspired and nearly always monochromatic. Each piece is an immersion in a single color, an ode to that shade. Having only varying shades of one color in a picture exudes a calm, balance and focus the artist finds soothing, less noisy.

The acrylic paintings in this exhibition were all made in 2021, the year before her husband, Tony, died. Since 2022, she has taken a break from painting, mainly working in cyanotype from home without a large studio. So returned to making art only 6 years ago in 2018 after more than a decade of not making any art while raising children, caring for incapacitated parents, and working as a language instructor. She began printing cyanotypes as a way to continue printmaking without the tendinitis that carving wood or linoleum brings on.

Cyanotypes are a 19th century form of photography also known as photograms, blueprints or sun prints. They resemble blue and white block prints or etchings but use no ink nor printing press. Light “etches” the image onto paper which is first painted with light-sensitive chemicals. During exposure to sunlight, wherever the paper is left uncovered, it turns blue, and wherever it is covered remains white. The process can be used to print photographs from large plastic photo negatives or to print the silhouettes of flat objects like plants–or in more experimental ways.

So’s blue and white landscape photographs are hand-printed in a labor-intensive manner using the 170-year-old cyanotype process and giant negatives the same size as the final print. The light-sensitive photography chemicals are brushed on watercolor paper by hand in darkness–taking care not to leave blank streaks–and when dry, the photograph is exposed outdoors in sunlight with a giant film negative on top beneath glass. Then the photograph must be thoroughly rinsed in water to stop the darkening process and pressed flat to dry. This becomes trickier when the photograph is 30 or 36 inches across, and the glass is even larger. Some of the artist’s largest cyanotypes are 40 or 48” inches and use no photo negative, just fresh-cut tree branches casting their shadows on the paper. The largest cyanotypes need to be rinsed with a garden hose on the lawn.

So’s landscapes, botanicals, and abstract experimental photography hang in private collections in ten countries, among them actor Timothée Chalamet’s, the Cancer Center at MD Anderson Hospital (Houston), University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston), Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville) and Starbucks headquarters (Seattle). Another seven of her landscape cyanotypes are currently on exhibition until June 2, 2024 at the Katz Snyder Gallery of the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco. Two of her abstract cyanotypes are currently on exhibition in San Rafael at Artworks Downtown gallery until March 23, 2024. This presentation will include five acrylic paintings, and eight hand-printed original landscape cyanotypes by the artist.

For her exhibition, the artist has released the following statement:

“We live in a very loud world. I prefer to turn down the volume and create quiet images. For me, many colors at once is sensory overload. Having only varying shades of one color, or at most two, exudes a visual quiet, a calm, balance and focus that I find deeply attractive.

Having spent a decade as a printmaker, monochrome is how my mind works. I focus on one color at a time, the composition, values, balance of positive and negative, patterns, lines and shapes. The Japanese have the expression “forest-bathing.” My paintings and cyanotypes are a sort of color-bathing. I focus on one color at a time. In my monochromatic tree paintings, I attempt to capture the calm silhouettes of trees and watery sky near twilight or silhouettes of branches against the pale yellow sky at dawn.

I was drawn to analog photography and cyanotype for the way its monochromatic hues simplify and transform the world. The trees in my landscape photographs and the fog-blanketed world of these woods have been a comfort to me for decades. I’ve walked this path for 20 years, memorizing each tree and bend. The way the fog simplifies as it transforms the familiar is magical. I make art the way a child brings home seashells from a beach to keep that memory. I try to distill the mood of a silent white forest or a pale pink horizon at dawn and bring it back home for others to see.”

Artist Website

Instagram: ChristineSoGallery

Gallery Hours: 

Wednesdays & Thursdays: 10am-5pm

Fridays: 10am-6pm

Saturdays: 10am-3pm

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