Alan Emerson: pastel, photography |

Alan Emerson: pastel, photography

John HartAt Pioneer Park in Nevada City Wednesday, Alan Emerson shows his pastel-enhanced photo of a New Mexican Indian ruin.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Alan Emerson has no idea what his future career will be.

And that’s OK with the Nevada City electrical engineer, who was laid off from his Roseville company in December.

Emerson misses the ability to create new designs and take a project from beginning to end, but considers the downsizing a mixed blessing because he has more time for art.

For six years, Emerson, 40, has dabbled in photography, pastels and a combination of the two.

“Before being laid off, my art was on the back burner,” said Emerson, who will open his first show Wednesday at Cafe Mekka.

He said preparing for the show the last two months has been exciting and terrifying.

“It feels good because everything involved required me to step up my art,” Emerson explained. “Then there’s the doubts we all have, such as ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ I feel that if I enjoy the art itself, other people will too.”

Emerson tries not to dwell too much on the uncertainty. “I’m going forward with the art,” he said matter-of-factly.

“I feel I’m really taking my first steps,” he added. “If I just follow a direction that seems fulfilling, it doesn’t matter if it’s art or engineering because that’s what I’m supposed to do. I have to just keep following the leads.”

Emerson has followed artistic leads since he visited the Southwest in 1996.

“That trip opened up a lot of doorways artistically and spiritually,” Emerson said. “I visited several incredible power places.”

Among seven rolls of film he snapped were two images of a doorway on the second floor of an American Indian ruin in New Mexico.

“One of the photos had a white waterfall coming out of the window,” said Emerson, who can’t remember seeing the falls when he shot the photo. “It was a striking photo, but the waterfall cut off the scene and I decided to expand the picture.”

He added additional architecture and sky around the photo with pastels.

“The art is a combination. The photo is still visible in the center; the pastel extends out,” Emerson explained.

Combining the two media creates a 3-D effect.

“I have had several experiences after taking a photo of an incredibly beautiful image or place, only to get the pictures back from the lab and they lack the impact and immediacy of the moment,” Emerson said. “But when the image is expanded in such a way as to include it as part of the larger scene of that same moment, the magic of that instant is conveyed, but more importantly the feeling of that moment becomes more accessible.”

Before Emerson visited the Southwest, he didn’t think he could draw.

“I’m a little amazed I can do it,” he admits. “I have to step back and ask, ‘Where did that come from?’ It’s just a process now – I try to shut my mind off and go in a trance, like a dream state.”

His multidimensional and spiritual themes are of the desert, the Southwest and different cultures.

The Cafe Mekka art show will be up through May at 237 Commercial St., Nevada City.

Emerson will also display his art at the state Department of Justice building in Sacramento in July and August. He plans to show some works soon at a Downieville hair salon and a bakery.

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