Rab Terry: New Venetian Plaster Paintings

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San Francisco artist Rab Terry's new series of Venetian plaster paintings is inspired both by the richness of nature and the minimalism of modern architecture. For this show, Terry challenged himself to come up with pieces that would work well in more spare, minimalist environments, where he envisions his pieces almost as "furniture or jewelry for the wall." Terry's latest pieces will be on display at STUDIO Gallery in San Francisco from September 17th - September 28th.

San Francisco artist Rab Terry's new series of Venetian plaster paintings is inspired both by the richness of nature and the minimalism of modern architecture. For this show, Terry challenged himself to come up with pieces that would work well in more spare, minimalist environments, where he envisions his pieces almost as "furniture or jewelry for the wall." Terry's latest pieces will be on display at STUDIO Gallery in San Francisco from September 17th - September 28th.

Terry thrives on reviving centuries-old techniques, updating them with more modern materials; Venetian plaster is a popular contemporary term for an ancient Italian stucco technique. His background is in functional art: painted canvas floorcloths, mirrors, whimsical children's furniture, innovative wall treatments and, for the past nine years, Venetian plaster. He puts his degree in molecular biology to good use in developing finishes with Venetian plaster, as well as the patinated metal leaf that frequently graces his pieces. Terry started making the plaster paintings almost by accident: customers who were visiting his enormous studio saw the sample boards of different Venetian plaster finishes he'd made for decorators and wanted to buy them. He saw the reaction of his clients to the material but knew that not everyone wanted an entire wall or room with the finish, and his more portable--and affordable--paintings were born.

The overall effect of Terry's new paintings is one of striking depth: pieces give you the impression of looking up through a shady grove of spring trees, or over the surface of a sun-dappled lake. He makes eloquent use of the famed San Francisco fog in a group of pieces that play with the idea of forms barely glimpsed through a mist of white. Pieces in the collection are inspired by colors from fragments of landscapes, but the paintings themselves are non-representational, although some viewers see a horizon line which leads them to read as actual landscapes. Although the pieces are richly textured and complex, they have the calmness and serenity that Terry is striving for.

Terry achieves this look with a lot of elbow grease: pieces have as many as twenty separate layers, some of which are sanded away to leave just a hint of color. The plaster itself is a combination of aged, slaked lime, marble dust and pigment; the modern material includes some polymers that not only help the plaster to adhere to modern building materials, but also allow for a wider range of colors. Terry builds lightweight wood frames for the panels, using recycled materials whenever possible. He applies several layers of handmade gesso, a traditional undercoat for gilding and painting on wooden surfaces that creates a smooth ground for the subsequent layers; each layer is sanded, the piece is sealed and only then can he start applying the plaster. He uses flexible stainless steel trowels to apply each layer; the application process is very labor-intensive. Terry opts for a matte finish with most of the pieces in his new series. "The different layers of Venetian plaster can be burnished to a very glossy finish," he says, "but I wanted to show more of the striations of the sanding process, to give the pieces a softer, more hand-hewn look." Today about half the panels he makes are commission pieces, based on specific requests from both designers and retail customers. His work is popular in both residential and commercial environments: the pieces are at once beautiful and easy to live with.

RabTerry: Venetian Plaster Paintings will be on display at STUDIO Gallery, which Terry opened with his wife, Jennifer Farris, in 2003. It's the perfect environment to see Terry's work, because he's finished many of the walls in the gallery, in addition to a number of pieces of furniture used to display art. The show runs from September 14th - 28th, 2008. STUDIO Gallery is located at 1718A Polk Street (between Clay and Washington) in San Francisco. Gallery hours are Wednesday - Friday 11 am - 8 pm, Saturday + Sunday 11 am - 6 pm, and Monday + Tuesday by appointment. For more information contact the gallery at 415-931-3130 or http://STUDIOGallerySF.com.

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JENNIFER FARRIS
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