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NICOLE STRASBURG, Bloom (Quadtych) for 'Sea Change' article in Santa Barbara Newspress

Sea change is defined as “a profound or notable transformation, substantial change in perspective, transformation after undergoing various trials or tragedies.”

Which is why Nicole Strasburg thought “Sea Change” would be the perfect title for her first solo exhibition in five years at the Sullivan Goss: An American Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara, where she has been exhibiting for 17 years.

The paintings will be on view through Sept. 27.

“This body of work emerged after the long months of quarantine. We can all agree that the year 2020 altered the way we see and experience the world, a noticeable change in our work patterns, change in our socializations, change in emotional atmosphere,” Ms. Strasburg told the News-Press.

“During the long seclusion, I spent my time combing through old source material for inspiration. Re-examining photographs, I tried to recall the ‘aha’ moment that captured my attention. Looking more closely at these images, I was reminded how much information the camera records versus what our eyes are capable of seeing. I question how this influences my work in the studio, the actual versus the recorded, the recorded versus the perceived, all woven into the personal dialog with my materials.”

Ms. Strasburg said her process starts outside, “absorbing nature through the act of wandering. In these moments, I feel connected to something greater than myself. I return to the studio to reinterpret these impressions through an autobiographical lens. Photographs prompt memories that then become paintings, exploring the sensory perception of land, sea and sky.”

The painting “Morning Break” was the first glimmer of where she wanted this body of work to travel, according to Ms. Strasburg.

“Subtle shifts in color, side by side with hard edges encompass both impressionism and abstraction simultaneously. The paintings want more from us than our assumptions about what seascapes represent: blue sky, sea green waters, white clouds.

“Nature shows us a riot of colors that exists and are enfolded in everything if we can gaze long enough. Being without constant physical references while I built these paintings allowed me deeper exploration and the dissection of myriad aspects to see the work from different angles, observing the sea as the paradox that it is, always changing and yet remaining the same.

“This work represents healing in the making of marks; solace also comes to mind and growth after a long winter. The uncertainty of this past year is veiled as horizons beckon us forward; the passing clouds offer comfort and respite that the storm is moving on, leaving the glorious remains of being washed clean and full of hope,” said Ms. Strasburg.

The locally grown Santa Barbaran went to Dos Pueblos High School and planned to become an engineer until she took one of Audie Love’s art classes.

“He put me in the advanced placement art program, and it changed the direction of my college applications,” she said.

After spending years roaming the UCSB campus, where her father taught set and lighting design, she accepted a fellowship to the College of Creative Studies and later graduated in the studio art program. 

Ms. Strasburg has a long history with the local Santa Barbara art scene as a contributing member of SB Arts Collaborative, past president of Santa Barbara Printmakers and current member of Wildling Museum Exhibition Committee.

After owning and running her own studio gallery in downtown Santa Barbara for 12 years, she closed her doors to be represented locally by Sullivan Goss and nationally by the Sundance Catalog.

Although starting her career as a figurative painter, nature became her constant muse. She spends a lot of time hiking the local beaches and mountains with her two border collies while visually recording her inspiration with sketches and photographs.

“I am a gatherer, walking and experiencing the land and then bringing those experiences back to the studio to reinterpret the impressions in the field. At the easel, emotional responses to my experience rise to the surface, where decisions are made and translated into compositions. The paintings become less about ‘place’ and more about ‘a sense of place’,” Ms. Strasburg said.

Some of her more recent projects involve co-curating at the Wildling Museum of Art & Nature in Solvang. “The River’s Journey” combined both her artmaking and her experience collaborating.

“Six artists formed the group, Rose Compass, which was documented in painting Santa Barbara’s main water source, the Santa Ynez River,” said Ms. Strasburg.

“The River’s Journey” was exhibited in four separate locations: the Wildling Museum in February 2018, Santa Barbara City Hall Gallery in August 2018, Sullivan Goss in October 2018 and the Westmont Museum of Art in February 2019. 

Ms. Strasburg’s involvement with the Wildling Museum continues. During the pandemic, window displays were created made up of multi-layered paper cuts, an indoor installation that could be viewed from outside the museum.

This was followed by the most recent exhibition, “Bio/Mass: Meditations on Nature,” a group exhibit co-created by Ms. Strasburg and Holli Harmon, bringing together 11 artists working in multiples in a varied selection of media.

Referring to her current show at Sullivan Goss, Ms. Strasburg said, “Sea Change can be applied to the world in general right now. We are all surfacing, looking to find our place once again after such a tumultuous time.”

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