As an artist-run collective, Oakland’s Mercury 20 Gallery emanates an affinity all its own. Rather than grouping together artists based around an overarching theme or prominent similarities, the gallery’s exhibitions take a random approach, connecting artists whose calendars align.
“We’re such a diverse group of people and artists,” painter Tara Esperanza said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “That’s one thing that sets us apart from a commercial gallery that typically looks for a more cohesive language in the work of the artists that they show. We celebrate the diversity.”
Mercury 20 Gallery’s dual solo show features the works of artists Andrea Brewster, titled “The Fragile Balance that Lies Beneath,” and Esperanza, titled “The Succulent Garden.” The contrast between Brewster’s biological sculptures and Esperanza’s succulent paintings encourages viewers to find commonalities in works that weren’t originally intended to interact with each other.
“We’re both zooming in really close to something,” Brewster said of herself and Esperanza. “That’s sort of the otherworldly quality — things that are part of our world, but they seem like they’re from someplace else.”
From undulating geometrical patterns reminiscent of enlarged sea organisms to icy blue-white entanglements that echo finely arranged shards of glass, Brewster’s sculptures teeter between the real and the fantastical. Even the gossamer-like airiness of certain works deceives the viewer of their plastic composition.
“The pieces are pretty fragile looking, but they’re not so fragile in reality,” Brewster said, referring to her sculptures. “There is this very fragile, delicate balance that underlies all nature that we’re all a part of, and we really need to honor it and take care of it.”
By balancing the technology of the 3D printing pen with her human touch, Brewster fluidly blends the man-made and the natural world. Without a predetermined structure in mind, she relaxes into the meditative act of guiding the release of hot filament from the pen before painting each sculpture’s final form.
“It’s on this funny edge between something that’s really technological and something that is completely handmade, improvised,” Brewster said, musing over her relationship to the 3D printing pen. “No computer control in there; it’s just dancing on that edge.”
Drawing inspiration from the depths of the sea, she intertwines her imagination with living organisms that reside out of human reach, inviting viewers to pay close attention to Earth’s many life forms.
“I like to watch live streams from ocean research vessels that have rovers that can go down to depths we as humans cannot visit,” Brewster explained. “(The researchers) send high-definition cameras down while they’re up on the surface of the boat, watching this world unfold. It’s really fascinating for me to see these creatures that seem like they’re from another planet, but they’re really here.”
Bringing viewers’ attention to the hidden lives on land, Esperanza’s “The Succulent Garden” maintains the same zoomed-in mindfulness imbued in Brewster’s works. Working with acrylic paints on large stretched canvases, she magnifies succulents’ color patterns and intricacies that are often overlooked.
“I feel really drawn to (succulents), and not just for their obvious beauty,” Esperanza said. “They have personalities that are very humanistic that, as humans, we can learn from: They live in community, they like to be really close and lean on each other, hold each other up, they share space really well, they are resilient, they evolve and change over time with the seasons. They’re like these stoic, amazing beings in my mind.”
Each painting places viewers at the perspective of a bee hovering over a desert plant, giving light to the extensive color that seamlessly flows through Esperanza’s works and the succulents they represent.
“I don’t have black — my blacks are all actually dark purple, blue and green,” Esperanza said about her acrylic paints. “I really love color and I love mixing colors, but I’m not trying to recreate a photograph. (My paintings) are realistic and I am honoring the plant and trying to look like the plant, not like something else, but I do leave room for artistic liberties.”
Despite the differences in their artistic mediums and creative inspirations, Brewster and Esperanza have highlighted the interconnectedness of all living things across diverse environments. Each of their works encourages viewers to pause and reflect on the beauty of nature and shared existence, sending a rippling awareness that each person can carry with them once they exit the gallery.
“I hope that the takeaway is to slow down, stop and appreciate the flowers, the plants, the trees, the ocean and all of that a little more — just share the beauty that exists all around us,” Esperanza expressed. “We need to take care of it, so we can keep enjoying it. Everything’s connected and the biggest problem is the disconnect that people have.”