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Klea McKenna Translates the Secret Life of Trees in BG's Upcoming Exhibition

Altered States

by Claire Astrow


Let Bedford Gallery’s upcoming exhibition Altered States be a spa resort for your mind. The show, which opens this Sunday January 13th and runs though March 24th, offers visitors a much needed opportunity to unwind, catch their breath, and gain a new perspective for the natural forces at work in their everyday lives. 


Jay McCafferty, Blue #56, 2016, solar burn, rust, pigment on paper, 3 x 3 feet; Victoria Wagner, Woodrock: Night Country, 2016, redwood burl and oil paint on polished steel, 11 x 17 x 9 inches; Klea Mckenna, Automatic Earth #81, 2017, 4 panel photographic rubbing, unique gelatin silver photogram, 38.5 x 46 inches. 

Guest curated by Heather Marx, Altered States features artists across multiple generations living and working along the California coast who harness natural elements and/or the environment to create their artwork. The artists work in a wide range of media and share a passion for creating art that is about process and reclamation. This exhibition highlights the natural cycles of our complex environment and offers visitors an opportunity to slow down and reflect on the interconnectedness of the sun, moon, air, and tides.

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Klea McKenna, Born in 1717, 20174 panel Photographic rubbing of a 300 year old Incense Cedar tree, Unique gelatin silver photograms, 38.5 x 46 inches. 

Over the course of the next few months, we will feature interviews with artists presented in Altered States. First up in this series is Klea McKenna, an artist based in San Francisco, who creates site-specific and time intensive photographic rubbings and video installations. 

Klea’s Automatic Earth series is the result of a meticulous process of rubbing photo paper onto tree bark, then exposing the textured surface to moonlight; a practice that can take up to a full day to complete with the majority of the work occurring in the shroud of darkness.

Many of us don’t think much about how a tree moves from infancy, through its teen years, into adulthood, middle age, twilight and death. Visual artist Klea McKenna’s photographic rubbings ask us to look at a tree very differently – as a life full of drama, force, even violence, and one that is shaped by weather, erosion, decay and growth.

For more information on McKenna's work, visit her website at And join us for a chance to meet the artist at the opening reception of Altered States on Sunday, January 13th from 3 – 5 pm. The show will run until March 24, 2019. More information can be found at


Klea McKenna in the studio during a residency at Lucid Arts Foundation, Spring 2018. Photograph courtesy of the artist. 

What drew you to making nature-based art? Why have you chosen this subject matter? Do you have other inspirations in addition to nature that help inform your work?

I begin with a response to a particular location or element; one that has a personal or collective emotional charge. With a desire to record an imprint - rather than a picture of it - I devise ways that light-sensitive materials can interact directly with elements of an ecosystem. To me, landscape is an animate and emotive force rather than a pastoral depiction. In the drama and violence of weather, erosion, decay and growth there are allegories for human emotional experience.


Klea McKenna, Automatic Earth #84, 2017, Photographic rubbing of a Redwood tree. Unique gelatin silver photogram, 24x20 inches. 

What is the work about, what is the concept? Is there a story? Please address specific artworks when possible.

The “photographic Rubbings” on view are part of a larger body of work called Automatic Earth. This title refers to what I see as a “blue print” that exists within nature; a plan within each organism to automatically generate a particular form or pattern that is then, inevitably flawed. I approach these broken patterns within the landscape as allegories for human emotional experience. It is where the pattern breaks that we are told something: a draught, a trauma, an interaction, the slash of a chainsaw…. a crack in the earth. Some of my subjects are spider webs and tree rings share a common shape, but one is fleeting and fragile while the other seems impenetrable and ancient. They grow and die on opposite timelines; the web exists for just one evening then is swallowed again by the spider who made it, while the tree grows for decades or centuries before it is cut down. The flaws in these pre-destined forms become a record of time and of labor and they tell the story of the life that made them.

Klea McKenna, ALMA, 2017, Single channel video installation with sound, 9:37 minutes - looped. 

Tell us how your work is made. What are the steps in your process? Describe the tools and materials you use. Why do you use these materials/tools and where do you source them from?

I use simple materials - light-sensitive paper and handmade tools - to make outdoor photograms and “photographic rubbings”. Photographic rubbings are hand-embossed imprints of earth, concrete and cross-sections of trees that are then exposed to light and in some cases collaged together into fictional forms. This process evolved out of years of making photograms, often working on-location in the landscape, using the nighttime as my darkroom. The work itself has generated an unlikely prescription for both how to experience the landscape and how to create evidence of what I’ve felt there. Recording labor has become increasingly important in my work; both that of a spider slowly weaving her web, and of a woman on her hands and knees rubbing the surface of the earth. Both gestures are a way of invisibly tending the world with our bodies. Patience, time and physical labor are as crucial to the subject of these images as to the process by which they are made. This method of working feels simultaneously like reading braille, like praying and like gambling. Risk, faith, and touching something unknowable are all part of my practice. In working this way I urge my antiquated medium forward, challenging analog photographic materials to amplify what is felt, rather than to document what is seen.


Kristin Farr Debuts Her Massive, Vibrant Walnut Creek Mural

by Claire Astrow


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Kristin Farr, West Coast Barn Quilt, 2018, acrylic paint on DiBond panels, 28 x 16 feet, photo courtesy of Bedford Gallery. 

Head over to the Bedford Gallery one of these dreary winter days and you will be miraculously doused in much needed summer sunshine and warmth, thanks to a brand new vibrant mural by Bay Area art star Kristin Farr. Titled West Coast Barn Quilt, this massive, vividly hued 28 by 16 foot mural is prominently displayed on the exterior wall of the Lesher Center for the Arts, which is home to the Bedford Gallery.

The mural was hand-painted on site by Farr using no masking tape or straight-edge tools. She selected a customized palette of 16 colors in response to her impressions from walking around downtown Walnut Creek, and asking passersby “what’s your favorite color?” Noting that the Lesher Center and the new mural mark the northernmost point of the City’s downtown Arts District, Walnut Creek Mayor Justin Wedel observes that “this vibrant, eye-popping work of art will catch the imagination of viewers and serve as a bright and colorful signpost for the Arts District.”


With Farr’s mural, the City of Walnut Creek is inaugurating a program to create murals on publicly visible walls throughout the downtown area. West Coast Barn Quilt will be displayed for up to five years before a new artwork is solicited from artists.

Kristin Farr and her winning concept were chosen from a pool of talented artists by a selection panel that included Walnut Creek Mayor Justin Wedel, Councilmember Kevin Wilk, Arts Commissioner Glynnis Cowdery, Walnut Creek arts advocate and Bedford Gallery docent Carol Fowler, and arts professionals Ken Harman, Director of Hashimoto Contemporary, San Francisco; Michelle Mansour, Director of Root Division, San Francisco; and Leo Bersamina, artist and professor of art at Diablo Valley College. The panel’s recommendation was approved by the Walnut Creek Arts Commission before Farr began work on the mural.

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Kristin Farr, West Coast Barn Quilt. (progress shot), 2018, acrylic paint on DiBond panels, 28 x 16 feet, photo courtesy of Bedford Gallery. 

Kristin Farr’s paintings are directed by color and influenced by folk art practices. Her brightly colored, often geometric designs create a three-dimensional illusion that is both playful and captivating. Farr’s Magic Hecksagon paintings are a nod to her family’s roots in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art.

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Kristin Farr, West Coast Barn Quilt (progress shot), 2018, acrylic paint on DiBond panels, 28 x 16 feet, photo courtesy of Bedford Gallery. 

Farr is a visual artist and arts journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to her studio and public artwork, she curates art projects for Facebook’s artist-in-residence program. She has exhibited her work widely in the Bay Area, including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Berkeley Art Center, and Palo Alto Art Center. She has also completed mural commissions and public art projects for Kaiser Permanente (Sacramento, CA), Facebook Headquarters (Menlo Park, CA), Pinterest (San Francisco, CA), Berkeley Art Center (Berkeley, CA), Taipei City Zoo (Taipei City, Taiwan), and Bonnaroo Music Festival (Manchester, TN).

Head on over to the Bedford Gallery to view this stunning piece in person! And be sure to check out Bedford Gallery’s extensive public art collection.

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