When Sarah Kalvin settled in Ventura in 2001, Venturans not only gained a talented new neighbor, but a community advocate. When you first meet Sarah, you know you’re in the presence of an artist. Her soft smile, open-minded eyes, and long hair that falls loosely down her back tells you so. When you get to know her art albeit oil, watercolor, acrylic, photography or digital, you’ll see that she is an artist with a strong sense of kinship to the community she calls home.
Her website bio notes that “Sarah takes pride in versatility and understatement of self-expression and attempts to infuse this into her art by capturing her subject's subtle spirit and serenity.” You’ll see this in many of her Ventura landscape oil and water-color collections. But to find out more about Sarah’s artistic career and her work with community projects, Fun-in-Ventura sat down to ask her a few questions:
Your artistic accomplishments are very multi-dimensional and include garment design. In fact, you once owned and operated the very popular Ix Chel Fashions in Santa Monica. Can you tell us a little more about the Ix Chel (pronounced e-shell) project that inspired your business and why it was important to you?
SK - I was originally invited to Mexico by a friend I met while living in Berkeley, California. We traveled to the State of Chiapas in southern Mexico. Chiapas is the center of Mayan culture, and many people go there to study the indigenous population that still lives today much as they did centuries ago. I was in awe of the people of Chiapas and the jungle. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be surrounded by foliage.
I remember seeing Mayan women walking down the street, barefoot like they were drawn to the earth, and wearing hand-woven clothing. They created their clothing with a back-strap loom. A loom that was strapped to their back, then tied to a tree while they sat down on the ground to weave. I was fascinated with their lifestyle and its similarity to the Native American culture I was attracted to in the 1960's.
Later I returned and lived in Mexico for 3-1/2 years. I wanted to help the Mayan women preserve their lifestyle and the art of the back-strap loom, and I knew that the best way to do that would be to help them sell hand woven fabric. I didn’t want them to lose what the Native American’s lost. I created a workshop and we made modern garments to sell in the local shops. I called the project Ix Chel after the Maya Moon Goddess of weaving, healing and childbirth.After the Northridge Earthquake disrupted your business you moved to San Antonio and taught pattern making for surface design at the Southwest School of Art. Some of your designs from that period were even featured in Jane Dunnewold’s book “Complex Cloth”. You then set off for Austria. What prompted your move to Vienna?
SK - After the earthquake, I put my finger on the map to find the U.S. city closest to Coahuila, Mexico where my friends lived. That turned out to be San Antonio, Texas. I was there for six months when my friend Renee Karger, an Austrian designer who worked with me as a seamstress in Chiapas, invited me to join her in Austria. I had never been to Europe.
Renee knew the famous Austrian silk screen artist, Vesna, who was famous for modernizing Gustav Klimt’s art work and putting it into her fabric designs. Klimt is probably best known for his painting “The Kiss” and is very important to Austrians. Vesna took elements of his work and made them popular again. She had a large collection of silk screens that Renee and I recycled into contemporary clothing to sell, which revitalized her style and her art.
In Vienna you were invited to lecture for the Esoteric Society at the United Nations on various subjects including that of Individual Destiny. You’ve been dedicated to meditation and metaphysical studies for many years now. How has this discipline influenced the art you create?
SK – Since I started painting in 1998 while staying with an artist friend in New York, I’ve tried to focus on and capture the spirit of the place or subject I paint. This relates my work to my metaphysical interests.
After painting in oils, I wanted to get looser and started painting watercolor abstracts. When I was learning graphic design, my instructor showed me how to use digital brush strokes to paint Sumi-e which means “ink painting” in Japanese. I had once taken a class to learn this brush stroke, so I was surprised to see it as a digital tool.
From that, I created my “Yoga Prose” series. These are 12 depictions of yoga postures that I did using a mouse, which is more difficult than using a stylus. I created all 12 in one-half hour. Of course, it took much longer after that to add the prose and the color behind the digital images. At first I tried to hide the fact that the artwork was digital, but then realized it was to my benefit to reveal the technique, because digital art had become popular.
When you returned to the States from Vienna why did you choose to settle in Ventura?
SK - It was 2001 and I had been traveling a lot and wanted to settle down. I wanted to live in Ventura for some time, as it reminded me of Santa Monica where I grew up. In fact, my first painting was of “Surfer’s Knoll.” You can find it in my “Spirit of Ventura” series. I’ve had people who’ve lived and moved away from Ventura tell me that when they looked at that picture it felt as if they were really there.
You certainly capture Ventura’s natural beauty. But you also use artistic expression to advocate community conservation. Your work with Ventura’s "Fading Treasures" and involvement with the E.P. Foster home renovation are examples of this. Why are these important projects for you and the community?
SK - Fading Treasures is about the loss of Ventura’s history, the loss of its unique character. I remember walking past the Mayfair Theatre and thinking, “wow, what was it like then in its heyday. What is the history of this place?” It spoke to me.
I feel the same about Hobo Jungle at the mouth of the Ventura River. It’s like a sanctuary to me with all the trees. It is so exotic. I was first drawn to it because it gave me the feeling of being in another world. I wanted to know more about how the trees got there. I recognized them as Monterey Cypress which are not natural to this area and I wondered, “who planted these?” So I started doing a lot of research. I went to the museum and the library and no one had any idea. Finally, I found my answer. The trees were planted under E.P. Foster’s direction. He owned, and later donated, Seaside Park to the County. Hobo Jungle had been part of Seaside Park.
The trees he planted in the area of the park now used for the County Fair were bulldozed for a parking lot. I didn’t know it at the time, but the trees became Ventura’s first fading treasure. I began to wonder more about E.P. Foster: “What kind of man was he to plant trees like this?” I could sense his energy, his spirit. I started to wonder about his family members and little by little people gave me connections to them. Today, because of my efforts, E.P. Foster’s great-grandchildren, Millie Schofield and Phil Foster Ranger, are hoping to see the restoration of their ancestor’s home that currently stands deteriorating on upper Ventura Avenue.
In Ventura’s Fading Treasures, you can see that the materials used for construction were superior to now. There was more care and time taken in the architectural design. A building was like a piece of art. Looking at these fading treasures is like looking at a family album. There are family connections to these businesses and homes. Ventura’s gems should be restored like collector’s items so that Ventura does not become a town without a soul - without history.
Recently, you moved into Ventura’s new community WAV, Working Artists Ventura, and are actively involved in promoting it and the other artists sharing residency there. Tell us more about what the WAV means for Ventura’s art scene?
SK - The WAV is like an experiment with this new concept where you have every kind of artist living and working in one place. It’s exciting and has great potential. When you visit the WAV, instead of viewing artists as you would fish in an aquarium, you are swimming along side them. You are immersed in their world. It gives a person a unique view of what it’s like being an artist, because you can see where the artists work and live and what inspires them. There is a special electric energy at the WAV.
What’s in store for Sarah Kalvin in 2010?
SK - I need to have my art start to make a living for me and so I’m seeking to sell my collection of Ventura paintings in its entirety. I also plan to create more regularly scheduled workshops for children and seniors. In working with children, I’d like to teach them about the environmental problems which are endangering the natural floral and fauna at the mouth of the Ventura River. The workshops would also be a way to teach them things like sharing. For example, when they create their art, they keep one piece and give one to be used to sell and generate revenue to continue to fund the workshops. Finally, I plan to continue to be a part of the Ventura artist community, to help represent and develop Ventura’s image as an art city.
If you are interested in viewing Sarah’s art studio, contact Sarah at email@example.com or call 805-653-1174.