Recollection Covered by New York Times

On View | Painting a Picture of Creative Growth

Culture | By Jeanine Celeste Pang | March 7, 2014


Time changes nothing; time changes everything. You can align with either axiom, but for Creative Growth Art Center, celebrating its 40th anniversary this month, there’s a case to be made for both. What began in 1974 as the first arts facility dedicated to adults with developmental, mental and physical disabilities has since become a testament to the power of imagination, with a singular vision: when it comes to art, there is no right or wrong.

As befits the nonprofit’s name, Creative Growth gives its community of more than 150 self-taught artists ample breathing room for idiosyncratic invention. In a 12,000-square-foot former auto-repair shop in Oakland, Calif., at worktables covered in brown kraft paper and littered with mixed-media supplies, participants are handed the proverbial oyster — at least from the hours of 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — as they pursue ceramics, woodworking, drawing, printmaking, rug making, fiber arts, fashion design and stop-motion animation. “They create the world in which they really want to live in,” says Tom di Maria, the center’s longstanding director. “Art becomes this transformative tool to try and change reality.”

Of course, what’s contemporary art without a show? An inaugural retrospective of the center’s history, “Recollection,” will open tonight at an adjoining gallery, where visitors will be greeted with a “Living Room” installation (a tribute to the late Florence and Elias Katz, who started the organization out of their Berkeley home), furnished with a coffee table and filled with pieces created by the artists. Polaroids, archival periodicals and auction posters will also be on display, as well as a time-capsule-like installation in which an old Kodak Carousal will project various ephemera on the gallery’s back wall. The show will also highlight work by its better-known artists: Aurie Ramirez’s pastel watercolors with their often food-related, fantastical mien; William Scott’s utopian renderings of San Francisco and Dan Miller’s abstract sketches and paintings, in which syntax and squiggles blur into a remarkably concerted mess. It is this kind of propulsive talent that has grabbed the attention of New York’s White Columns gallery (where all three artists have had solo exhibitions) and the Museum of Modern Art (Scott and Miller are both in the permanent collection), and fashion powerhouses like Marc by Marc Jacobs, which has emblazoned totes and T-shirts with the artists’ works in support of the center. Yet still, the center’s success has less to do with public recognition and everything to do with its impact on its artists’ lives. After four decades, Creative Growth’s achievement exists outside of logic and reason — it’s the language of dreams.

The “Living Room” installation nods to Creative Growth’s humble beginnings — the late Florence and Elias Katz started the organization in their own home 40 years ago — and features art from the center’s many participants.
An untitled painting by Aurie Ramirez.
An untitled painting by Dan Miller.


“Recollection” is on view through April 18 at the Creative Growth Art Center, 355 24th Street, Oakland, Calif.;

Click here to read the article on the New York Times website.