Linda Gass grew up in Los Angeles in the 1970s at a time when California was, pretty much like now, going through a prolonged drought. How then, she often wondered as a young girl, was everything so green? What’s with the lawns, the trees, and the swimming pools? Years later, she learned that it was because the City of Angels pulled water from the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Northern California, and the Colorado River via hundreds of miles of pipes and reservoirs. Since then, Gass says, she has been on a quest to understand “the relationship between humans and water and land that sustains us.”
Gass’s “stitched paintings” are informed and inspired by her research into the history of water use in California and the American West – where it comes from, how it gets moved around, and how we use (and abuse) it. They are also informed by her technical background – Gass has a masters in computer science and she spent 10 years working in the software industry.
Using a mix of painting and quilting techniques, Gass creates colorful, textured landscapes and maps that reveal how we have manipulated and, more often than not, polluted, one of our most precious natural resources.
Sanitary, for instance, offers an aerial view of Newby Island Sanitary Landfill in Milpitas, right by the San Francisco Bay. The landfill takes in 4,000 tons of garbage daily. Its 342-acre pile of trash is close to reaching the maximum permitted height of 120 feet. Refined zooms in on the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, the largest industrial polluter in the California Bay Area, which has released untreated toxic wastewater into the Bay several times in the past. Gass’s body of work does also include more hopeful stories. Take, for instance, Cooley Landing: Life in Water, which shows an ecosystem rebounding to life at a former landfill site.
Each of these intricate, 30x30-inch pieces takes the Palo Alto-based artist about two months to put together. Despite the seriousness of her subject matter, Gass prefers to engage viewers through pleasure. Which is why she uses bright, saturated colors and luminous silks. She especially likes to convey the “familiar and comforting feel of textiles that comes from the integral and basic part they play in our lives.” That feeling of comfort, she believes, helps draw viewers in and encourages them to reflect on the contradictions between the beautiful piece of art before them and the ugly reality it portrays. The idea is not to overwhelm people with the sheer magnitude of the environmental problems we face, but to inspire them to action.
Linda Gass is an artist in residence in the Palo Alto Cubberley Artist Studio program. Her work has been shown at various galleries and museums, including The Oakland Museum, The Textile Museum in Washington, DC, and the Yosemite Museum Gallery. To learn more about her work go to www.lindagass.com
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