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Linda Davis
The Times
August 8, 1997

Oakland artist Katina Huston has mounted a spare but intriguing exhibit at Danville Fine Arts Gallery. Her display, “small things of little importance,” will be up through August.

The pieces are set in a stark white area, giving the viewer plenty of room to walk around them and ponder.

Against one wall is an assortment of black spheres on a surface; they range from pea- to tangerine-sized. Titled “Rosary Beads” the project took 2 ½ years from conception to completion says Huston. It is made from the petals of 4,000 roses, mashed and cooked for 14 days with 10 rusty nails in an iron pot.

“It’s a medieval recipe that was actually used by the nuns to make rosary beads,” explained gallery director Victoria Richardson.

It is said when the rose petal beads are held in the hand for prayer the smell of roses will continue for 100 years. 

Huston was surprised after grinding up 1,000 red roses in a Cuisinart to begin the process. “I had this beautiful red powder. Then (put in) a pot of water, it turns black, a different kind of beauty.” Huston says.

“As an art issue, I was very interested in beauty transformed into what. The petals turned black and the surfaces (of the beads) opened up and spit out any impurities.”

On the facing wall is Huston’s “Evolution of Trust and Distrust”- 12 parchment panels wood block stamped with various patterns of the work “no” in black and “Yes” in red. How we often say ‘Yes’ when we mean “No,” how this results in guilt or self-betrayal, how we hide the word “Yes” deep inside ourselves for fear, are all explored in this thought provoking work.

Huston also has four “Skin and Bones” sculptures of gauze covered plaster that invites analysis. They are numbered simply 1 through 4. One sculpture could be a pelvis, another a wizard’s hat, a third a bony crown. The artist calls them all crowns.

“I am allowed to say this is a tiara or a crown, sitting on someone’s head,” Huston says. “Our spiritual resume looks like a crown or a halo – your substance or experience, something that makes you outstanding. These crowns represent the kinds of things you do to be a decent person in your life and not get credit for.”
The ravages of anorexia, but also the internal or external structures of the body are explored in “Bones” as well as two whimsical pieces, “Fat Girls” 1 and 2. The sculptures are bulbous pink forms encased in nylons.

”When I was sewing them there was an interesting consideration,” Huston says. “Is the black too small or is the pink too fat? Which is wrong? Is the outside world that’s pushing on you or the power part of what you are?”

“It is meant as a tribute to the fat girls in aerobics class, an act of tremendous courage,” says the artist.

Huston, 36, received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from New York University, then went on to earn a master’s degree in ceramics from Mills College in Oakland. In between she studied for two years in Iowa, sculpting in iron casting; everything she made was large and black, she says.

She has been an artist in residence at the San Francisco Dump. Some of the larger art works include a 12 foot arch made from 10,000 Ohio Blue Tip Matches and a 13 foot boat made of sheet music.

Huston teaches art and will conduct a one-day print workshop for kids and adults August 17 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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