Art community opens up

Hundreds of local artists show work at Silicon Valley Open Studios event

Oleg Lobykin considers himself "a product of globalization," just like so many others in Silicon Valley. Like many in the region, he immigrated to the United States chasing opportunity (his wife had been accepted to Stanford); like many who move here, the pair fell in love with the area and settled down, purchasing a home in East Palo Alto, and starting a family; and, like many who live here, the Russian emigre wrestles every day with big ideas, which he addresses through his life's work.

And this is where Lobykin diverges from many of his neighbors. "There's a bunch of people like me in Silicon Valley," he says. "The major difference is most of them are related to the digital world, and I am from the Stone Age."

Lobykin is a sculptor, who has forged a living out of rock and concrete -- selling his original pieces and lending his expertise to restoration projects and other commissioned works. In recent years, he has worked with Stanford, using pictures and other historical documents to recreate two historical sculptures of Benjamin Franklin and Johannes Gutenberg, which had been destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1906; he also created a giant silver shark fin, titled "No Swimming," which was first seen on the playa at Burning Man and later was temporarily displayed on the Google campus in Mountain View.

The sculptor is one of the more than 380 artists scheduled to display work during the long-running annual celebration of local art, Silicon Valley Open Studios.

Now in its 28th year, the Open Studios event begins this weekend, May 3-4, with artists from as far north as Burlingame and Hillsborough and as far south as Los Altos and Palo Alto opening their studios to the public, or displaying their work at galleries. The following weekend, May 10-11, focuses on more mid-Peninsula artists, from Palo Alto through Los Altos and Mountain View and on to Santa Clara. The final weekend, May 17-18, is focused mostly on South Bay artists and studios in Cupertino, San Jose, Los Gatos and Gilroy.

The event provides an opportunity for the public to take in local art from local artists. All Open Studios events are free. According to the event's director, Mel Thomsen, visitors will get the chance to see a wider range of an artist's body of work than in a typical gallery show, and in many cases, those who attend will be able to meet the artists, learn about their process and perhaps even see them work.

Visitors to Lobykin's East Palo Alto home studio will see some of his large pieces, such as "Opus," a massive, amorphous, zig-zagging chain, which resembles something you might discover while peering through a microscope at the inside of a cell -- or three-dimensional snapshot of bubbles working their way through water.

"I'm looking for the roots of the form," Lobykin says of "Opus." "Where does it start?" Sentences are made of words, and words, in turn, are composed of letters, he muses. In this way letters are the roots of words and sentences. "How does that work with physical forms?"

"Opus" can double as a jungle gym, a fact that his daughter appreciates. Lobykin demonstrates by climbing up the sculpture, which easily supports his heavy frame even though it is not secured to the ground. He says it weighs thousands of pounds.

Inside the nearby garage, two of Lobykin's assistants work on similarly stringy, shapeless forms. These pieces are far lighter than "Opus" -- made of foam and plaster. Lobykin still needs to smooth them down, paint them, and then arrange them for the opening weekend of Silicon Valley Open Studios. One imagines the final product looking like some sort of outsize, psychedelic, open-air kelp garden, where visitors can weave their way in and out of the 8-foot-tall sculptures, assigning their own meaning to the work.

That's what Lobykin wants, anyway. Though he says he usually has an idea of what his art is meant to represent, he doesn't like to explain too much to his audience.

Lobykin is only one of many local artists showing work during the first weekend of SVOS. Video artist Nora Raggio will present video installations at the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto.

Like Lobykin, Raggio has lived a globetrotting life, splitting her youth between the Bay Area and family in Argentina. In the past, Raggio has used her videos to examine the passing of time, change and human frailty.

"Film is all about change, whether it's slow or rapid," Raggio, who has worked as an artist in residence at the Cubberley center for nine years and has been showing at SVOS for seven. "There is this sense that it's made of light and then it disappears," she continues, explaining what has drawn her to video. "There is a fragility, it's more ethereal, and not material as, say, a sculpture or painting."

There is also a time element to video, which appeals to Raggio. Through videos, Raggio often works to show change over time. For example, her video "Trash Hourglass" is just 30 seconds long -- a shot of trash accumulating at a waste facility. The film is edited, so that the trash is in the form of an hourglass. "We can measure time by the amount of trash we generate every half minute," she explains in the video's caption.

Another of her videos, "Trans," is "about migration," Raggio says. The video flips back and forth between people speaking English and others speaking Spanish, and is meant to explore "displacement in time and in space and in cultures."

In addition to Lobykin and Raggio, first-year Open Studios participant Pat Mayer will show her mixed media collage work at her Redwood City studio, during the event's first weekend.

Mayer has only been working as an artist for five years, but already shows a sharp eye for aesthetic. The artist says she seldom aims to convey a message with her collages -- which most frequently comprise passages of text torn from books, solitary letters and other scraps of ephemera.

"I like the printed word," Mayer explains. "I like graphics and I like letters."

As an artist, Mayer says she is heavily influenced by the order of cubist works, and her work mirrors that inspiration. She uses pages of text to create repetitive lines; large block letters are tilted on their side or flipped upside down, divorced from any relationship they may have had to language, becoming pure forms; she arranges these materials into geometric shapes, working to create movement with lines, contrast and visual weight.

The results are abstractions and shapeless sentiment, rather than concrete messages, which is what Mayer seeks to create. "There's something about the shapes that I find beautiful," she says. "The pieces are just my feelings."

Silicon Valley Open Studios:

Sculptor Oleg Lobykin: 538 Sacramento St., East Palo Alto; May 3-4; info at www.lobykin.com

Video artist Nora Raggio: 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto; May 3-4; info at www.cubberleyartists.com/Nora.php

Mixed media -- Pat Mayer: 275 A Linden St., Redwood City; May 3-4; info at www.pdmayerart.com

Information: www.svos.org


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