Artists address life without children in ‘Empty Nest’ 

Artists Gwen Terpstra and Leigh Barbier became friends when their daughters attended kindergarten in Noe Valley more than a decade ago. Their children have grown up and moved away — and the artists have a lot to say about it.

“Empty Nest” opens Saturday at 60SIX in San Francisco. The show celebrates the transition that occurs when children — with their abundance of energy — are suddenly gone.

“This time ... is very fertile ground to create from,” Barbier says. “The combination of having both more time and energy to express this state of melancholy, longing, loss and, on the other side, excitement for this whole new chapter in your life — that is a really wonderful place to work in for an artist.”

It’s a passage, Terpstra says, that often isn’t talked about very much.

“There is this whole new time and space because being a parent is so all-consuming,” she says. “In a way you have to create a new identity.”

Terpstra, a graphic designer who has created CD packaging for Bill Frisell, Tin Hat Trio, Mike Marshall and other musicians, does mostly abstract works. Her rich oil and mixed-media paintings, influenced by the music she listens to, often include ancient African and Indian symbols.

Terpstra’s sculptural pieces in the show “will take your breath away,” Barbier says.

Barbier works as a digital painter for Industrial Light and Magic. Besides working on some of the “Star Wars” films, she has created masks for live performances by The Residents and worked on dioramas for the California Academy of Sciences.

Barbier’s work includes characters from an imaginary world she has created called Mushroomville. The colorful, highly detailed paintings — done in gouache, ink and colored pencils — depict an all-female society where women live in log cabins in the woods.

“That imaginary space provides psychological space for me to create in, which is very freeing,” she says.

When their youngest daughters attended Alvarado Elementary School, the artists worked together with students on various projects, such as making wire sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder.

These days they have more time to make art — and are taking more risks with their work. The 51-year-old artists hope that visitors who see the show will reflect on the seriousness of raising children as well as the lighter side of being parents.

“We want people to have a sense of humor about their kids,” Terpstra says.

The gallery itself is worth a visit. Designed by architect Bill Bloomfield, the space features a Plexiglas floor designed by Oliver DiCicco that visitors can walk on — allowing them to view art beneath their feet.


IF YOU GO

Empty Nest


Where: 60SIX, 66 Elgin Park, San Francisco

When: Opens Saturday with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m.; gallery hours are 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays; closes Jan. 30

Contact: (415) 577-4396; www.gwenfaberterpstra.com; www.leighbarbier.com

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Cathy Bowman

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