“Red Tide” at the de Young

O+A’s Laura Hapka was visiting family on the farm in Minnesota when she got an email from San Francisco’s de Young Museum asking for more information about the painting she had submitted for their 125th Anniversary exhibit. “I got nervous,” she says. “My work is so minimal. All we got to submit was one flat, 2-D image with no context. Not even an artist’s statement. There’s texture to the piece that didn’t come through in photos.” She worried it might not translate.

But it did. Laura’s painting “Red Tide” debuted on October 10 in Gallery 4 of “The de Young Open,” an exhibition celebrating the Bay Area’s community of artists. Over 6,000 submitted work for this show. From the 11,514 works entered, the de Young’s jury selected 762—including this one, Laura’s first in a major art museum.

“Red Tide” is part of the Process Series, Laura’s exercise in stripping down noise and distraction while still creating an experience for the viewer. “It is not about a painting, but about how I arrived at my body of work. I isolate a technique used in all my previous artwork—the act of making pure sheets of hand-painted acrylic that I manipulate and restructure.” Before the Process Series Laura cut these sheets and layered the pieces between epoxy resin on a linen-wrapped panel or shredded them and applied the paint sometimes with other materials such as ink or shredded money. One day as three uncut sheets were drying on her studio wall, it occurred to her “That’s absolutely beautiful,” and the Process Series was born.

“Red Tide’s” vaguely political title is an example of Laura’s playfulness when it comes to characterizing abstract art. “This piece was created for a solo show in which all paintings utilized tone-on-tone primary colors. I chose primary colors to simulate the purification of my work.” When the Covid pandemic forced cancellation of that show the confluence of primary colors, the political primaries and the primary urge of organisms (and artists) to survive created a layered structure of meaning worthy of Laura’s original technique.

“Red Tide” and other works by Bay Area artists may be seen at the de Young through January 3.