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Marc and Nicole Katano's 'Akin' exhibit strikes a rare, natural balance

click to enlarge BETWEEN THE LEAVES Nicole Katano photographs nature in an abstact fashion, a counterbalance to her husband's work. - NICOLE KATANO
  • Nicole Katano
  • BETWEEN THE LEAVES Nicole Katano photographs nature in an abstact fashion, a counterbalance to her husband's work.

She captures nature and makes it appear abstract. He makes abstracts that appear to come from nature. She laughs. "It's kind of how we are in real life, too. We balance each other surprisingly well."

She is photographer Nicole Katano; he is artist Marc Katano. She did commercial work for years in Los Angeles, shooting for such studios as DreamWorks and American Girl, before turning full-time to her own photography. He is represented by the Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco, and has work hanging in major institutions east from the LACMA to the MoMA.

Married for some 30 years, the two see their creative lives combined in a new exhibition opening June 28 at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (SVMA). Titled "Akin: The Art of Marc and Nicole Katano," the show juxtaposes his emotive abstract forms with her montages depicting an intensely soft-focused world.

Having begun their careers in San Francisco, the Katanos lived in Los Angeles for more than two decades. When they were finally ready to return to the Bay Area, they had the good fortune to retain a real estate agent who also sat on SVMA's board. Executive director for SVMA Kate Eilertsen naturally sees it as a fait accompli that her institution would cinch the deal; Nicole assents that "we thought, 'Well, this is a really nice little museum.'" The couple moved to Sonoma in 2010.

And Eilertsen's life immediately got easier. The SVMA hosts "a minimum of one show a year dedicated to local artists," she says.

Marc is an American born in Tokyo. "Japanese calligraphy is his inspiration," Eilertsen explains. "The idea of making a mark is what he does. He uses expressive brush working; he does a lot of his work on the floor so that he can move with it. It's about gesture as much as anything else."

In a short homemade video that the Katanos have posted online, Marc is seen at work. Sheets of paper are on the floor of his studio. Working quickly, he uses his hands to lay the ink down, making deft, intuitive touches with his fingers that immediately soak into the handmade Nepalese or Japanese paper he favors. He then paints an overcoat that mostly obscures the first layer, so that the forms become darkly oblique. Finally, he makes swift calligraphic strokes with white ink using a bamboo stick.

This is all done kneeling or bending down to the floor, like a tidy Pollock. The resulting images are handsome and evocative, knowable and hidden. In his artist statement, Marc deflects the urge to imply, writing: "Each line represents nothing more than its own creation."

Nicole's photos are largely botanical. "I look for a point of view that maybe I haven't seen before and certainly my viewer might not have seen before," she says.

"I just shoot what looks right to me, and it so happens that what looks right to me is very soft and has motion to it."

Soft and in motion. Some might suggest this could be another definition of marriage.

  • Marc and Nicole Katano's 'Akin' exhibit strikes a rare, natural balance

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