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Courtesy photo Wind-blown wildfire smoke rising from a Central Coast ridgetop against a hot late-summer sky is the image evoked by Nicole Strasburg's 'Westerly,' one of the works in her solo show through Sept. 8 at ARTS Space Obispo.

Strasburg captures wildfire in paradise

ARTS Obispo and the Central California Museum of Art is presenting the first San Luis Obispo County solo exhibition of Santa Barbara painter and printmaker Nicole Strasburg's works, starting Friday and continuing through Sept. 8.

The first of two receptions for "Paradiso/Inferno: Drought and Fire in the Central Coast Landscapes of Nicole Strasburg" is set for 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at ARTS Space Obispo in the San Luis Obispo Creamery.

A second reception is set for Sept. 3 during Art After Dark festivities at downtown San Luis Obispo galleries and exhibit spaces.

"Paradiso/Inferno" expands Central California landscape painting by moving beyond idyllic depictions of nature to portray the environmental realities of drought and the wind-blown wildfires in Santa Barbara County, at ARTS Obispo spokeswoman said.

Strasburg's paintings are minimalist in their approach, with a muted color palette and abstract forms drawn from the land, water and sky.

"This links her historically and aesthetically to the first stirrings of modern art in California, specifically the so-called ‘Tonalist School' of the early 20th century," the spokeswoman said.

"Its artists practiced in Northern California but produced a number of landscapes from the northern Central Coast, including Monterey and Carmel."

The exhibit title "Paradiso/Inferno" comes from the dichotomy of the Santa Barbara area, which is considered a beautiful paradise by residents and visitors alike.

But Strasburg, who has lived in Santa Barbara since she was a youth, knows the region well and understands how vulnerable the attractive homes and natural landscape are to periodic wildfires that are suddenly fanned out of control by raging winds, jumping from canyon to canyon.

Those conditions have created devastating infernos like the Tea, Gap and La Brea fires of 2008 and 2009 that drew the attention of television news networks worldwide.

"I strive to show an understanding of locale and environment from a number of standpoints," Strasburg said. "My process comes from internal promptings and emotional influences rather than intellectual ones.

"The paintings are records of personal connections and the allure of knowing a place intimately - in its beauty, fragility, danger and resilience.

"In making a composition, the goal is simplicity," she explained. "I edit out all but the basic design structure. Color comes from the dialogue with the painting and a visceral reaction to the experience in the field."

Curator Gordon Fuglie, a native Californian with a 30-year involvement with California art and culture, organized the exhibition for ARTS Obispo as part of a series of projects developed by the Central California Museum of Art and displayed in venues throughout the central portion of the state.

He is a member of the advisory council of the Central California Museum of Art and serves on the exhibition committee for ARTS Space Obispo.

ARTS Space Obispo, located at 570 Higuera St., No. 165, San Luis Obispo, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

For more information, contact Marta Peluso, ARTS Obispo executive director, at 544-9251 or

See this story in Friday's Times Press-Recorder.