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Art naturally requires deeper examination and study, but what we often ponder is technical skill — distinctive brushstrokes or creative use of color.
In the new exhibition, “No Horizon: Helen Mirra and Sean Thackrey” — on view at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive through Aug. 25 — deeper examination is indeed encouraged, but not in search of physical detail. Rather, in this first dual exhibition from the two Marin County-based artists, a spiritual element is embedded in the nuance and simplicity of the works.
Both Mirra and Thackrey’s art is influenced by Zen Buddhism. For Mirra, these principles emerge through woven textures in linen, wool or silk wall hangings. For Thackery, in close-up photo studies of decaying Venetian limestone slabs that seem almost touchable, like topographical maps. The works invite viewers to pause in moments of quietude and contemplation.
These pieces “embrace the simple act of seeing as an inspiration to deep reflection and understanding,” said Lawrence Rinder, BAMPFA’s director and chief curator, who organized the exhibition.
“In both Helen Mirra and Sean Thackrey’s remarkable bodies of work, we are moved by the simultaneous expression of the particular and universal,” Rinder said.
The exhibition features more than a dozen recent works by each artist, most of which are receiving their first museum presentation.
For Mirra, her practice of Zen and her artwork are harmoniously intertwined.
“I can’t tell the difference between my art practice and my engagement with Zen,” she said. “Which also means, one might not think particularly of Zen in viewing the work. I certainly don’t want the work to ‘rely’ on Zen.
“The textures and colors are chance determined, not only because the warp shows through the weave and makes a mixed color from the two perpendicular threads, but because each piece is on the loom for about a month, they include an array of emotion and thought,” she said.
Named for the month in which they were made, Mirra’s works on display at — excerpts from a series created between 2017 and the present — have subtle variations in color and texture that seem to shift when viewed from different angles. Combined with a restrained palate, they convey intuitive sensations of place, atmosphere and season.
Thackrey has been working on his photography for nearly 60 years as a “purely personal art,” he says on his website, calling it “a matter of life and death.”
“A successful work is a resolution to a question that otherwise has none, since it cannot be asked in any other way,” he says. “So the necessity to me of my work has always been the need to achieve such a resolution, one image, one realization, at a time.”
Thackrey’s latest extended series, created between 2012 and the present, are photographs of weathered slabs of Venetian stone, capturing the transformations of Venice’s distinctive limestone surfaces as they slowly decay over time. Each photo is mounted on dyed panels of wood, meticulously crafted by the artist.
And again, they’re intended as objects of contemplation. “As such, and as with all other such objects, what they are images of is less important than what, as images, they do,” he says.
In conjunction with “No Horizon: Helen Mirra and Sean Thackrey,” BAMPFA will present a reading at noon Aug. 23 by Bay Area poets Lyn Hejinian and Frances Richard, who respond to Mirra and Thackrey’s work with original compositions.
For more information on the exhibit, call 510-642-0808, or visit www.bampfa.org.