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"Polar Bear" by Karine Swenson, part of her exhibit, “Real and Imagined — A Collection of (Mostly) Animal Paintings,” opening April 5 at Metro Galleries.

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"Strict Carnivore" by Karine Swenson, part of her exhibit, “Real and Imagined — A Collection of (Mostly) Animal Paintings,” opening April 5 at Metro Galleries.

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Tim J. Chong

"Flower Face" by Tim Chong, part of the photography exhibit "Superimpose," which opens April 5 at The Foundry.

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"Fantasy of Flight" by Jennifer Williams, part of the photography exhibit "Superimpose," which opens April 5 at The Foundry.

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A painting by Barbara Billington, part of the "Lessons Learned" exhibit opening April 5 at the Bakersfield Art Association's Art Center.

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A painting by Linda Kahega, part of the "Lessons Learned" exhibit opening April 5 at the Bakersfield Art Association's Art Center.

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A painting by Barbara Billington, part of the "Lessons Learned" exhibit opening April 5 at the Bakersfield Art Association's Art Center.

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A painting by Jody Cheeseman, part of her solo exhibit opening April 5 at the BAA art gallery at Dagny's Coffee Co.

French artist Edgar Degas said, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." Through paint or photographs, the exhibits opening this First Friday offer a peek into the artists' minds with a display of whimsical and real animals and skillfully layered images.

With Bakersfield's desert climate, many residents are well-acquainted with the sight of tortoises, jack rabbits, bobcats and coyotes. But artist Karine Swenson brings an artistic touch to "Real and Imagined -- A Collection of (Mostly) Animal Paintings," her exhibit of desert creatures and animal-shaped erasers (along with some abstracts).

Swenson and her husband live in Joshua Tree, where she photographs much of the surrounding flora and fauna, which forms the basis for her paintings. The "imaginary" half of her exhibit was inspired by animal erasers from Japan, a gift from a fellow artist.

"I became obsessed with them. I carried them around with me, and when I worked on the computer, I would line them up on my computer where I could see them. Finally, I had to paint them."

While running one day, Swenson thought of juxtaposing those images with her desert animal works, which she already had been painting.

"I think they are at odds. I find the imaginary animals fascinating, because they really don't look anything like real animals, like the animals they are supposed to represent. Yet our minds tell us they are animals. I wanted to exaggerate the difference between a 'real' animal and an 'imagined' one."

Along with her work, Swenson explores the artistic process on her blog, ponosmom.blogspot.com, named for her dog, Pono. (She also maintains another page, karineswenson.com.)

"I love to write, and the blog I keep satisfies that part of my creative mind. I do find that writing the blog helps me understand my own work."

That online presence helped bring her to Don Martin's attention, when he was looking for artists for an all-women exhibit in 2010.

"I viewed her website and was immediately impressed with her style and versatility as an artist," said Martin, Metro's president and creative director. "She has a very positive energy and that is shown in her work."

Martin is excited to present Swenson's latest work this Friday.

"I think by far this collection will be one of the most interesting I've done over the past six years."


The Foundry also aims to keep First Friday interesting with "Superimpose," a collaborative exhibit from photographers Jennifer Williams and Tim Chong.

The show's photos depict multiple images superimposed on each other. Although the same effect can be accomplished through editing software, Williams' and Chong's work is unique because it is developed using the multiple exposure settings on their cameras.

"Almost all of our images began with a portrait or a person," Williams said. "We analyze the lighting and the light and dark parts of the photo because that determines how the second exposure will blend with it. Then search the area for the second layer and take another photo. The camera blends them together for us, and creates one image from the two exposures.

"Although it's very simple to just snap two random photos and see how they blend together, creating the type of images we wanted is a bit more complicated."

The work commenced when Williams upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark III last spring and began incorporating multiple exposures into wedding photography. Finding inspiration online, Chong and Williams sought a way to further adapt the techniques into their own work.

Technology has elevated the work, but Chong points out that the technique has a long history.

"This superimposition of two or more different exposures into creating one single image has been around since film days long before digital technology. ... Today, certain cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 (which Chong uses) have the multiple exposure feature without the use of external software."

After one of her superimposed images online drew some buzz, Williams began developing the dual exhibit with Chong, who had never shown his work in a gallery. The pair started last summer, finding inspiration at the Kern County Fair (seen in the carousel swings of Williams' "Fantasy of Flight"), a car show (producing Chong's striking "Flower Face," which blends a man's profile with a colorful floral display) and around town.

Both Williams and Chong note their favorites in the show incorporate striking portraits.

"My favorite piece is called 'Sarah,' named for the person in the photograph," Williams said. "When I saw my large-scale print, I was just so happy with the way the scale showed off the detail. Especially in her eyes. We chose to print several of our images fairly large for this reason."

"My favorite piece in the show is 'Loner Troubadour,' which is a print of a guitarist that has been superimposed by a second exposure of the Amtrak Station building right here in Bakersfield," Chong said. "This piece has a different meaning that I can't quite explain and I am very satisfied with that."

Foundry executive director Christina Sweet is equally taken with the artists' skill.

"Tim and Jennifer's creativity amazes me. I never have seen anything like this technique before. Their creativity and technical skill has merged brilliantly."

The Foundry's reception will feature music from Jess Trevino and Jeff Ardray, the singer and guitar player from local band Hellcatz; and pies and a chocolate turtle sampler will be offered for sale from Window Sill Pie Co.

'Lessons Learned' and more

Another artistic duo on display this Friday are Barbara Billington and Linda Kahega, whose exhibit, "Lessons Learned," opens at the Bakersfield Association of Art's Art Center. Both women began painting later in life, according to the BAA newsletter. At age 80, Billington sought a challenge to occupy her time while being a companion to her husband, who couldn't get out much. Hoping to avoid the "kiss of death" (boredom and the lack of creativity and accomplishment), Billington paints daily, focusing on watercolors at home and through BAA Art Center classes.

In one such class, Billington met Kahega, a local pediatrician who, like Billington, was seeking a less analytical challenge to take her into retirement. Along with local classes, Kahega has developed her watercolors through national workshops and travels. Developing their work, both women felt it was the right time to plan a show together, giving rise to "Lessons Learned." Flowers are a common theme in the work, but each artist's style varies.

From a pair that took up painting later in life to a lifelong art lover, the BAA highlights another artist at Dagny's Coffee Co. Jody Cheeseman presents a collection of colorful, photo-realistic works, the result of years of study. Although Cheeseman has been interested in art since she was a child, it was in the late '70s while taking oil painting lessons that her talent developed.

Cheeseman attended a correspondence art school and classes through the years, keeping her work a hobby until she retired six years ago. Her work includes a mix of still life and floral pieces.