Hidden Gem: The Sonoma State University Art Gallery

Mark in the studio.

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Hidden Gem: The Sonoma State University Art Gallery

Known as Wine Country, Sonoma County is often also referred to as Art Country.

The natural beauty of the area draws artists to it who wish to find a quiet gorgeous spot in which to think and work. We understand why they call it home!

The local gallery scene is flourishing here and the Sonoma County Museum is amid an exciting expansion. But there is one gallery that often gets overlooked, both by area residents and visitors to the North Bay. Exhibiting internationally recognized artists as well as faculty and student work, the Sonoma State University Art Gallery is a hidden gem.

Tucked inside SSU's verdant campus, the Art Gallery regularly shows work by such starry names as Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Eric Fischl, Elizabeth Peyton, and others.

Established in 1978 and overseen by art historian Michael Schwager, the SSU Art Gallery allows visitors and locals alike to see world-class art without crossing the bridge to San Francisco or Oakland.

This fall, it hosts two shows in honor of retiring art professor Mark Perlman. Perlman, an abstract painter, is collected by a cadre as diverse as actress Halle Berry, various national museums, and even IBM.

Reflecting back on his career, the first exhibit is titled "25 Years, 25 Artists," and is solely composed of paintings by Perlman's former students. It runs Sept. 5-Oct. 13, 2013. The second exhibit, a one-man show of Perlman's own work, begins Nov. 7, 2013, and runs through the winter holidays.

In a recent interview in his Sebastopol studio, Perlman explained that he chose former students whose memory still burns bright with him, whether they went on to become professional artists or not.

"I tried to keep that criteria out of it," he explains. "Who's become more successful, who's become more recognized? I just tried to think of our time together. Who were the strongest students then? I really tried to limit it to those who were the strongest when they left."

The SSU Art Gallery is planning a full series of panel discussions and other extracurricular activities surrounding this first exhibit for the Fall 2013 semester that are free and open to the public.

Of his own work, Perlman discusses polarities. Creation versus destruction, awkwardness versus grace, beauty versus decay. He calls the making of his paintings, which are usually finally coated with an encaustic wax that gives them both light and dark, as a kind of "history" of his thought process.

"While I'm painting, I'm painting the moment," he says, "Whatever is occurring to me is what I want in there." Once he begins painting, he also begins scraping paint off to reveal the moments that once were, back when he began a painting.

"I'm not in a rush to create thousands [of works]," he says. "I want the paintings to feel settled."

SSU Art Gallery, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. '25 Artists, 25 Years' opens with a free reception for the public on Thursday, Sept. 5, from 4 to 6 p.m. Gallery open Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Free; $2.50 parking fee. 707-664-2295.

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