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Visiting artist creates unique perspective with window effect

Sculptor and artist Calman Shemi says his work goes through a major shift every 10 years or so. An exhibition at the Wentworth Gallery of La Jolla will feature some of his newest works, as well as an appearance by the artist.

Shemi’s most recent techniques include a window effect, similar to shadow boxes, and a unique lacquer application atop aluminum panels covered with gold or silver leaf.

“Anyone who likes color will like his work,” said gallery director Alex Salazar.

Several of the lacquered compositions are already on display. Layers of bold, deep color splash across metallic canvases beneath a glossy lacquer finish. The squares of gold or silver leaf are faintly apparent, as are the brush strokes and layers of paint. These small details reveal the time-consuming process used to assemble the pieces.

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Shemi first became interested in this process when he was working in China, where the process is ancient and takes a long time to complete one piece. He uses a modern version of the technique and materials to create almost the same appearance.

First, gold or silver leaf is affixed to an aluminum panel. Automotive paints are used for the design, still-life or landscape. Multiple layers of glossy lacquer are applied during the process. The end result is a vibrant, luminous creation. Shemi has experimented with a background of black to enhance the rich hues even more.

“These colors are a desirable choice for a long-lasting effect,” Shemi said. “It is very beautiful and unique. I think no one else in the art world uses this technique.”

Pieces featuring Shemi’s window effect are almost like a hanging sculpture, Salazar said.

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A painting, created in a shallow wooden or aluminum box, is attached to a frame that is usually done in gold or silver leaf and lacquered. This creates the illusion of looking through a window or portal. It invites the viewer to pause and consider a different view, a new panorama of human experience, Shemi said.

“This idea came from when people build a big building and put a huge fence around it,” he said. “There are holes in the fence, and people outside can look in and see what’s going on inside.”

In the past, he has worked with laser-cut painted metal sculptures and a patented soft painting medium. In the latter, layers of differently colored and textured fabric are fashioned to create a painting that becomes a tactile experience.

By the time a style has garnered popularity, Shemi said, he has usually moved on to explore a new technique. Currently he is experimenting with digital prints on clear acrylic sheets. He is trying to develop a process that will allow him to create enough pieces of work for an entire show. He said the experimentation can take a few years.

Shemi denies there being anything special about his artwork. He says the magic comes from the relationship between his work and the audience.

“The dialogue is within the painting and the people looking at it,” he said.

During a recent exhibit in Florida, Shemi said he met an individual who