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From Artists in Their Studios
— Napa, Sonoma, & Marin


An artist’s studio is where the magic happens. For most artists, it is here where their imaginations soar and their labor and talent manifest in works of art. Join us as seven gifted Northern California artists give a glimpse into their history, their world of inspiration and their unique artistic processes.

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    Alana Grimstad

An artist’s studio is where the magic happens. For most artists, it is here where their imaginations soar and their labor and talent manifest in works of art. Join us as seven gifted Northern California artists give a glimpse into their history, their world of inspiration and their unique artistic processes.

Wosene Worke Kosrof

When Wosene Worke Kosrof was a young boy, his mother often accused him of stealing money: she didn’t believe he was actually able to sell his artwork to foreigners visiting Ethiopia. It wasn’t until decades later when she saw her son’s art at a gallery exhibit in Northern California that she truly understood he was a success.

Kosrof’s only exposure to art as a child was religious paintings. Early on, his brother saw talent in Kosrof’s drawings and encouraged him to go to art school.

“At first I said, ‘No. I want to be a soccer player,’” Kosrof reminisces.

But Kosrof took classes, which lead to more advanced art training and ultimately landed him a teaching job and an award of distinction from the emperor of Ethiopia. “I thought this is really possible. I could make a living doing this to support my family.” At this point in Kosrof’s career, Ethiopia was filled with violence and political turmoil. “The change was very brutal. We were all scared for our lives.”

While Kosrof in the United States for an art show, U.S. immigration officials granted him and other Ethiopians refuge from the dangerous unrest at home. Kosrof got married, got a green card and continued growing his art career after moving to California.

Kosrof’s painting style is unique, and his distinctive works can be found in galleries, private collections and museums worldwide. His pieces, which he signs “Wosene,” incorporate letters in Amharic, his native language. In his early work, he spelled out significant words and phrases having to do with themes such as freedom, human rights and peace. Instead of entire words, Kosrof’s more recent work includes shattered, broken, squeezed or otherwise altered letters. He distorts and manipulates the letters’ shape in an abstract way that at times disguises the fact that the viewer is looking at his indigenous language.

“There’s intense beauty in the letters,” says Kosrof. “This is how I link language and art. It’s very personal for me. I consider myself a contemporary artist who brought African art to a whole new level of abstraction. I’ve taken writing from a local environment to the global scene.”

Kosrof says his bright, vibrant paintings elicit emotions in people who tell him they get a certain sense and feeling from his work. The artist believes that’s much more important than viewers being able to read the writings.

“The explosive color from my childhood just comes out of me,” says Kosrof. “It’s who I am. I try to capture emotions. Sometimes I’m sad and depressed, and sometimes I’m as excited as a kid in a candy store and I can’t stop painting.”

Even as Kosrof’s career was taking off, his mother still constantly asked him when he’d be getting a job. She didn’t understand her son was exploring uncharted territory with his imagination and talent, and that people loved it! Kosrof describes his mother as a beautiful, kind soul. Because she never learned to read, she didn’t know the Amharic letters. He recalls with delight his mother saying at the last exhibit she attended before her death, “Oh, my son. I love all the bright colors. Such beautiful paintings. I’d like to buy them if I won the lottery.”

“And that was her way of telling me she finally understood my work is worthy,” says Kosrof. “She now believed that I didn’t steal any money!”

Lori Austin, Managing Director of Terra Firma Gallery, concurs wholeheartedly on the worthiness of Kosrof’s work. Says Austin, “Meeting Wosene one magical summer day in the early 90's was the single most important encounter of my professional life. Ever so humble, Wosene was just beginning to capture the attention of art critics and curators around the world. It has been both an exhilarating and deeply rewarding adventure to witness the continued rise of his career both in the US and global art markets. Wosene is truly one of the most authentic and fiercely brilliant painters of our time.”

Jean Salatino and Steven Gandolfo

You can bet there aren’t too many five-year-olds drinking from hand-blown glass cups, but little Sofia, or Fia as she calls herself, doesn’t have much choice: both of her parents are extraordinary glassmakers.

Mutual friends from art school first introduced Jean Salatino and Steven Gandolfo. The husband-wife duo works as a true partnership. Both of their hands and hearts are involved in every piece they make. Gandolfo starts by blowing the glass base, which is like a blank canvas for Salatino, who then carves the details and designs. The sculptures then go back to Gandolfo to smooth the glass so that the final products are as soft as silk.

“I’ve always loved the process that I start the piece, she does her work, then I get it back to finish up. It’s something so beautiful,” Gandolfo shares.

Most of the couple’s pieces have vibrant, rich colors, making ordinary household items much more fun.

“When you start looking around, glass is everywhere. It’s something very utilitarian, and yet still art. It’s art we can use every day,” says Salatino.

Salatino practices what’s called glass cutting. She says is a dying art form because it’s very labor intensive and time consuming. Once Salatino gets the base from her husband, she creates the designs on the piece by carving the glass against a very fast spinning wheel made of industrial black diamonds. Salatino says when people meet her, they don’t believe someone so small and slender has the physical strength to create what she does.

“I’m small but I’m determined! It’s really, really hard,” Salatino says. “It takes an incredible amount of focus, patience and skill. This is something I’ve been doing for 25 years so now I can do it with my eyes closed.”

Gandolfo also creates designs on some pieces by doing what’s called sandblasting, or sandcarving.

“We make extra-thick bases to then carve and sandblast because that gives the glass dimension. Light hangs out and bounces around and makes the color pop much more than thin glass,” Gandolfo explains.

The couple’s bowls, vases and other glass sculptures are shown in galleries in Sonoma and also sold on their website. They get so much joy sharing their creations with admiring people around the world.

“That’s blissful,” says Gandolfo. “Those pieces will last way beyond us. That’s what’s so special about glass – it can break in an instant and be gone, or it can last thousands of years.”

The couple’s studio is near their home, where they’re inspired by the gorgeous vineyard views, and they often groove to music as they work.

“I am standing in the same place pushing against the wheel for hours and so it’s important to wiggle and dance around,” Salatino laughs.

Both Salatino and Gandolfo say they’ve learned the hard way they must be calm and happy when working. They simply don’t go to the studio if they’re in bad moods. “The glass knows and it will crack on you,” Gandolfo adds.

The couple wears masks, respirators, aprons, bandanas and rubber boots when they work, with eyewash and Band-Aids nearby. “I look like Darth Vader when I work!” laughs Salatino.

“I love when we’re both in the studio at the same time,” he says. “We’re in there together but we’re doing our own thing, headphones on, grinding and grooving away. We love and respect each other. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Jenny-Lynn Hall

A one-way ticket to Italy. Sounds like the start of a great love story. In a way, this is Jenny-Lynn Hall’s romantic beginning to her career. While working a day job at the stock exchange, Hall took art classes in the evenings. She then went to Italy to continue her education. Hall anticipated a six-month trip, just enough for a cultural and culinary indulgence. But it was ten years later when Hall returned to Northern California with all the advanced skills she learned abroad and started her company, pigment + paste.

While Hall works with the more traditional painting method of oil on canvas, she’s also developed an original and bold approach to making functional art. She paints with a customized lime plaster material that can be used to make things that need to be heat and water resistant, such as flooring, tabletops and bathroom walls. In a studio that adjoins her showroom Hall mixes powders and liquids to make her own plaster.

Hall explains that the beauty in her work comes from its many layers. Some pieces have as many as 60, each layer following its own rhythm, reminding her that everything in the world is connected and coexists. To Hall, this process also reminds her that although she can control some of what she does, some of it is controlled by chance. Hall’s time in Italy influenced her technique of using layers. “There’s so much old stuff in Italy. So much has had to be repaired, and all those layers tell a story.”

Hall has recently enjoyed painting seascapes inspired by the teachings of Zen Buddhism. “A teacher once said the farther you go down in the ocean, the less turbulence you feel on the surface. Our top layers are more susceptible to the elements.”

Hall lives near the ocean and every time she spends time by the water, she says the views and experience are different. The shape of the coast is always changing, as is the light, the color of the water and the sky. Hall finds those fluctuations a constant inspiration.

“I get into a space when I’m working,” Hall says. “I get into feeling the process and let that guide me.”

Aiden Kringen

When Aiden Kringen was a kid, he didn’t have stacks of baseball cards. He had stacks of sketchbooks. For as long as he can remember he has been studying the human form. When he was six-years-old and his friend showed him comic books, he was mesmerized by the exaggeration of the superheroes’ bodies.

Kringen never thought about taking art seriously until life got serious for him. He learned he was going to be a dad. He got a job as a graphic designer to pay the bills and then at nights and on weekends was painting and preparing for the opportunity to show his work.

“It’s really mind blowing. It’s been a strange trip. I had no idea that any of this could ever happen. Everyone thought we were crazy,” Kringen shares. “I’ve been on a long journey in a short time. I faced a huge learning curve. I didn’t have anyone to ask how to navigate this world, so I just did my best as I went along. Every time I make a leap it gives me more confidence for the future of what I want to create and produce.”

Kringen’s paintings and sketches depict women’s faces and bodies in an abstract way that resembles mosaics and has colors like stained glass. Kringen says that’s partly because he’s not classically trained: he isn’t confined by parameters of a perfect looking face or figure. Kringen explains he’s always been attracted to the feminine, not necessarily as a man attracted to a woman, but he’s drawn to the feminine qualities within himself. He says he’s always identified more with his emotional, sensitive side and wanted to explore those feelings.

“A woman’s body is classically beautiful, pure and elegant. There’s a strength that comes with that. The women I paint have a subtle calmness, yet resilient expression to them. In modern times we want to make the feminine the same as the masculine. That doesn’t have to be. Women are just as strong, but in a different way.”

Kringen admits his studio is a mess, with paint and spray paint splattered all over the floors, loose photographs taped to the walls for inspiration, and pens scattered about. He often draws on the wall to get his hand warmed up. He says he works on many pieces at once and is constantly switching between them throughout the day.

Kringen is amazed when he reflects on his journey. The same man who didn’t show up to his final art class exam is now showing his work at The Christopher Hill Gallery in Healdsburg (Sonoma Country) and in St. Helena (Napa Valley).

“Within his work is a definite maturity beyond his 24 years of age,” says Christopher Hill. “His story is of obvious intrigue and appeal. It’s not normal, but it’s liberating. With no formal training or molding, he’s developed his own technique that catches people’s eye. He’s still growing. He’s still very raw and that’s exciting. It will be neat to see where he is in five years from now, ten years, thirty years from now. I suspect we’ll see a very rich evolution along the way.”

Kringen says being a father has greatly influenced his work and inspired him to pursue his dreams of being an artist.

“You can choose to be safe and mediocre, or you can pursue your dreams,” Kringen says. “I want to be the person my kid can look up to.”

Wayne Berger

A few years ago Wayne Berger tore down his grandfather’s more than 100-year-old barn to use the old wood for furniture. Berger’s accomplished career as a furniture maker is full of family ties. In fact, it was working weekends and summers in his father’s cabinet shop that introduced him to the world of wood. Now Berger’s own children carry the torch as talented artists themselves. Berger has done projects with his son and his daughter, “the two things I did right,” as he proudly refers to his children.

Berger’s portfolio is diverse, ranging from wood to metal, and furniture to sculptures, and now he’s interested in exploring photography. “I have a short attention span. I get bored easily. This way I continuously have something new and exciting. I have so much going on. Life is good.”

Berger says while the wooden furniture keeps the lights on, his metal work keeps him sane.

“When I’m building furniture, I have a vision to follow. I am making custom pieces for clients. When I’m making art, I can follow any direction I want. There’s no dollar amount attached to it. There’s no expectation. I don’t care if anyone else likes it,” says Berger.

Berger indulges in his artwork after hours in a separate studio, usually rocking out to music while enjoying a glass of wine with his dog hanging out nearby. His process is to cover the canvas with metal leaf and then introduce chemicals that cause the metals to react. The final product is unpredictable, and Berger loves that.

“I can create the composition you like, but the reaction can vary,” Berger explains. “Even though I’m testing and measuring, every one is different. It’s still a surprise when I do it and that’s the fun part.”

Berger also applies the same technique to three-dimensional forms of the human body. Berger casts his models’ figures to get exact replicas and then adheres the metal leaf and chemicals onto the sculptures. “The human body is a timeless subject matter for artists.”

While Berger’s metal work is his own personal form of art therapy, those pieces join his furniture for sale at The Passdoor, a Sebastopol gallery that features functional, modern products and cotemporary artworks.

“His paintings change constantly as the light changes. They talk to you. They speak to you throughout the day,” says Jennifer Edwards, owner of The Passdoor. “You’re always captivated by them.”

“It’s kind of humbling. I don’t take it for granted. I keep trying to improve and perfect what I’m doing,” Berger says. “You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting. I try to keep moving in the right direction.”

Carol L. Walker

Carol L. Walker paints for food and works for wine. While her side job at a winery is often entertaining, it’s her paintings that support her family, as well as her creative spirit.

“I paint all day. I treat it like a job. I have to do it every day. If you don’t, you can’t get into your rhythm. I love it. I never get tired of it,” says Walker.

Walker’s images are so pleasant that for the last 20 years, dozens of companies have bought them to reproduce on keepsakes such as decorative flags, rugs, murals and mouse pads. People also send Walker photographs of their kids, pets and favorite landscapes, and she paints a replication, capturing that memory forever.

“I get so much joy out of this,” says Walker. “I tell people to get [images captured of] their babies when they’re little. It will be your best treasure. It’s magical to be able to put something together that will make people happy for a thousand years and generations to come.”

Walker says when clients send her posed photographs, she sends them back: she’s rather capture moments filled with spirit and love instead. “I want kids playing on the beach or wrestling with their dog. It has to be fun,” says Walker. “I want every painting to tell a story. I use as much color as possible. I just want it to pop. I just love color.”

The painter’s studio sits on an 18-acre vineyard in Sonoma County with expansive views and delightful sunlight.

“When you’re on a vineyard, every single month the view changes. The colors change. The vines grow. I can look out and it’s different all the time, and it’s a whole new inspiration,” Walker says.

Walker says while she works she’s always listening to books on tape. She finishes about 300 books a year!

“Listening to the books allows me to enjoy the process,” says Walker. “It takes me out of my head so the work is just from my heart.”

Alana Grimstad
(973) 886-4546, alanagrimstad@gmail.com
Alana Grimstad is an award-winning journalist, writer and photographer based in Santa Fe who loves to meet interesting people and is honored to share their stories.

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