The Wildling Museum of Art & Nature will host a virtual program from 4 to 5 p.m. Feb. 10, titled “Nocturnes & Envisioning the Night Sky: A Conversation with Nathan Huff & Nathan Vonk.”
The event follows a year-long exhibition at the Wildling “Starry Nights: Visions of the Night Sky.” The museum has been closed for the majority of the 12 months.
Because museums are closed in the purple tier, the Wildling started a Zoom series to continue educating the public in a safe format. The Feb. 10 program is the first of 2021.
“It will be the first of our zoom presentations that are a kind of a conversation. It’s a twist for us,” said Lauren Sharp, assistant director at the Wildling. “It’ll be more informal, a fun conversation between Nathan Huff and Nathan Vonk.”
Mr. Huff, a local artist and an associate professor of art at Westmont College, painted three pieces featured in the exhibition. One, titled “Phantom Limbs,” is 95 by 162 inches and catches one’s eye from across the museum.
Mr. Vonk, owner of Sullivan Goss Gallery at 11 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara, loaned the Wildling nocturne paintings from the gallery’s collection.
They will discuss the night sky’s representation in art. Mr. Vonk lends the historical perspective, and Mr. Huff talks about the inspiration behind his nocturnes.
“It’s always interesting to hear from artists directly and hear their inspiration of what they were thinking at the time compared with what you think,” Ms. Sharp told the News-Press.
Mr. Huff’s pieces contrast tree limbs entangling in front of a starry sky. It feels dreamlike, and the size of the “Phantom Limbs” makes viewers feel like they’ve entered this new environment.
“When you get up close to it, it just expands out your field of vision. It’s a different experience when you look into a framed piece of art,” he said. “It almost feels like you’re in the painting.”
Many of his paintings contrast suspended or modified objects against a white background. But occasionally, he paints a deep blue over the bright background and sets the subjects in space.
“The context of the night sky feels otherworldly. It feels disconnected in the way the white background does,” he said.
“It’s the backdrop to the drama of our lives. I love it as a space, but we also project into it. We can envision new things when we look out beyond what we understand on earth here.”
Although the audience won’t have the opportunity to stand in front of the large painting, Mr. Huff still feels like the digital realm can effectively teach art.
“I think we experience the world through digital images so it’s a natural parlay,” he said. “It’s a challenge if you can’t stand in front of the art, then how can you expand the mission of the art.
“I’m an educator also, and it’s transformed a lot in how we teach college art. It may not be the ideal way or what we’ve done in the past, but we can still learn from it.”
Paired with Mr. Vonk, the two will give a unique view of nocturnes during the hourlong session.
“One of the things that I love about conversations about art is that we each have a different perspective we bring to work,” Mr. Huff said. “I think it’s great to bring people from two different disciplines together to see how the conversation unfolds.”
Mr. Vonk curates nocturnes and many other niches for his gallery, Sullivan Goss: An American Gallery. He collects paintings by Lockwood de Forest, a prominent landscape painter from Santa Barbara.
He concludes that Mr. de Forest had a love for nocturnes. They weren’t common or easy to display, but he still painted a substantial number of night skies.
Mr. Vonk also seeks paintings by Mr. Huff. The two met outside of the art museum at Westmont College, where Mr. Huff is an associate professor of art, and eventually Mr. Huff had a solo exhibition at Sullivan Goss.
“I think he is one of the most exciting young painters in town … and I’m very excited to be co-presenting with him,” Mr. Vonk said.
He hopes viewers come ready with questions for presenters. He is excited to see what catches the audience’s attention.
Mr. Huff said, “I hope the show will remind us to look up, be present to what is immediately in front of us and add inspiration from what’s beyond us. That’s what I already hope with my work, but when I think of the night sky, it is so much more apparent.”
To learn more and watch the program Feb. 10, visit wildlingmuseum.org/news/2021-nocturnes-conversation.