1960s, modern world meld in ‘Staycation’ paintings 

click to enlarge In her oil, tempera and graphite work on canvas “Staycation,” Sarah Thibault posits that today’s digital images echo symbols from  the hippie era decades ago. - COURTESY SARAH THIBAULT/MARK WOLFE CONTEMPORARY ART
  • In her oil, tempera and graphite work on canvas “Staycation,” Sarah Thibault posits that today’s digital images echo symbols from the hippie era decades ago.
Artist Sarah Thibault paints signs of the times. She brings together 1960s peace symbols and tech-age emojis in a trippy new exhibit exploring the iconographies, ideologies and similarities of two eras of changing tides in an exhibition "Staycation" on view at Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art in The City through Feb. 27.

Thibault, a local painter and sculptor, cites her Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where symbols of hippie culture have become ingrained in the landscape, as an inspiration for the show.

The works generally contain a sunny quality, warm colors and period imagery – peace signs, magic mushrooms, flowers, tie-dye designs – stemming from the history-making eruption of counterculture in the neighborhood nearly 50 years ago.

Thibault combines these images with icons from current Internet and social-media culture, such as smiley faces and other emojis and emoticons. The exhibit proposes that the mind-expansion aspects of the hippie-era ethos echo in today's digital networking universe.

The title refers to staying in one's home city while on vacation. Thibault, who has a corporate day job, views such "staycations" as opportunities to break from routine, turn oneself on to something new, and perceive reality differently.

Her painting process begins when she draws on the canvas with graphite pencil. Ink, spray paint, oil paint and tempera also come into play. Using color to express mood and repeated motifs, she has described her work as "deconstructed patterns.”

In the immersive "Staycation" (72 by 81 inches), a psychedelic forest, or perhaps a cosmic shower, of mushrooms fills the canvas. Peace signs and smiley faces also figure into this landscape alive with the feed-your-head experience.

"I Just Want to Get Along" (60 by 48 inches) features a peace sign with a dripping look that suggests ephemerality, while its blazing red outline emphasizes the passion and urgency associated with the symbol. Areas of blue and yellow appear to be challenging the red and threatening the peace.

The exhibit also includes sculptural and multimedia works, which Thibault has described as more narrative and less atmospheric than her two-dimensional pieces. "White Girl Blues" (72 by 24 by 24 inches) features canvas, lamp materials, artificial flowers, female anatomical imagery, and a smiley face. Surreal and romantic, the work has a story to tell.

"Emoticon Palette" is a multichannel video project inspired by the instant messenger at Thibault's day job, which contains emoticons and gifs that workers can inject into chat messages. The digital collage plays on the viewing-room walls, the gifs looping endlessly.


Sarah Thibault: Staycation

Where: Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art, 1 Sutter St., S.F.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; closes Feb. 27

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 369-9404, www.wolfecontemporary.com

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Anita Katz

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