Opening Thursday, the fall exhibition at the Bakersfield Museum of Art can be viewed as a study of nature. The three shows — Astrid Preston's "Poetics of Nature," Javier Carrillo's "Nuestros Ojos" and Gwynn Murrill's "Early Wood Sculptures 1968-1985" — explore our different senses of environment, whether it's a forest, the mountains, a Los Angeles neighborhood or even a backyard.

Even within the displays, a sense of place exists, starting with Gwynn Murrill's sculptures of creatures great and small, rendered mostly in laminated and koa wood.

"It was so fun to lay out this show, the way you can create an environment," said curator Rachel Magnus."I love coming in here and it feels like a new environment."

In order for viewers to fully take in Murrill's 13 sculptures, some of her earliest work, the exhibit will not include the usual wall tags but rather a walking didactic presenting the entire layout. 

Magnus encourages a 360-degree view of the pieces, including a band of coyotes, clams, a hawk, cheetah, rocking horse and a woman, who stands as almost an Eve or Mother Nature in the show.

"Standing Woman," modeled after a friend of the artist, is carved from a single ash log with natural lines lending themselves to the subject matter.

"You can see how the wood grain mimics the shoulder blades, the glutes. How impeccably that is created. You can't force that."

In those lines and shapes, Murrill's story as an early artist is told. While working toward her MFA at UCLA, she was growing frustrated with her two-dimensional work.

"She was having trouble finding what she wanted to say," Magnus said.

The self-described minimalist gained access to koa wood while her husband was working in Hawaii. In her sculptures, first in wood then later bronze and marble, the artist found her voice.

A strong point of view is key for any artist, and Javier Carrillo, like Murrill, expresses his through his work. "Nuestros Ojos" presents portraits and subjects the artist has experienced in his life growing up in Los Angeles.

His work explores the hybridity and duality of being a Mexican-American, Magnus said. Most of the work on display is from a series of paintings designed in the style of loteria (Mexican-style bingo) cards. The first four are directly tied to his childhood, starting with "El Mojado," a portrait of his father, who first came to the U.S. equipped with only a backpack and milk jug filled with water.

Later pieces depict the various sellers he encounters in his neighborhood: "La Tamalera" (tamale seller), "El Frutero (fruit), "La Florera" (flowers) and "El Palatero" (ice cream). Most of the faces are portraits of his friends and family, Magnus said, with the exception of "La Dulcera De Algodon" (cotton candy seller).

"They're colorful and playful with a strong social commentary. The end product is really beautiful."

Carrillo's show also includes a series of reductive linocut prints of work trucks. The artist cites fellow printmakers Andy Warhol and Wayne Thiebaud as inspiration for his detailed works, which require precision as each color is printed off a linoleum block in a limited run.

The artist will also exhibit one large-scale work (84 inches by 60 inches) titled "Vincente." The portrait, an oil on canvas, is of the balloon seller who Carrillo has seen in his neighborhood every day for six years. Magnus said rather than focusing simply on portraiture, the painter strove to capture the personality and emotion of the figure — the hard work, long days spent outside, even the shoulder indentation from the rod holding up the myriad balloons.

As Carrillo's figures loom large in his work, Astrid Preston's work resides at the other end of the artistic spectrum, telling her story in a multitude of landscapes.

"What I think is so fascinating is how she has chosen to articulate the landscape, zooming in and zooming out," Magnus said. "There is almost a metaphysical, surreal quality but it's also quite realistic."

Some paintings are detailed close-ups while others play with perspective within the piece. The piece "Colors of Color" further takes on textures, with portions of the landscapes depicted as pixelated squares, and a large solid green square near the center.

The Swedish-born artist immigrated to the U.S. with her parents, both architects. Their influence is evident in her early work, Magnus said, with the landscapes reflecting different forms of architecture.

Her world travels also inform her work, with a lily pond reminiscent of Monet's garden in Giverny, France, as well as a touch of chrysanthemum (kiku), inspired by visiting her son in Japan.

Preston has also been able to go back and take an introspective view, connecting what in her life and world events has impacted her work.

"She is incredibly wise in the way she revisits old work and finds ties to her life. She works so hard to try and understand herself."

There will be much for viewers to take in with the layout of the show. Paintings displayed in the museum's Cunningham Gallery are balanced in a way to draw the eye and prompt conversations about color, scale and how we perceive the world around us.

Preston addresses our "deep need to understand our place and our surroundings," Magnus said.

The fall exhibition opens Thursday with a reception and will remain on display into next year. Murrill's and Carrillo's shows will close in January and Preston's ends in late March.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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