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Posts published in “Topanga Canyon Gallery”

Artist Toby Salkin: “The Women’s Movement Wanted Us To Be Free”

Special To Topanga Journal

A member of Women Painters West and the Topanga Canyon Gallery (TGC), Toby Salkin has her heart in Topanga Canyon and the San Fernando Valley, and it shows in her paintings and collages that light up the room with colors reminiscent of this region. Salkin is a committed member of TCG’s collaborative space in the center of Topanga, Her story of commitment to art, the women’s movement, family, and the gallery is evident in her enthusiasm for life and the creative process. 

Mary Crescenzo

By Mary Crescenzo


TJ: What brought you to California from the East Coast in the mid-70s?  

SALKIN: My first husband, Jay, was a sales manager in the toy business. He had come out to California from New York on business, loved it and wanted us to live here. I thought it was a great idea, so we moved.  

TJ: What did you want to be when you grew up? 

SALKIN: An artist. I was always drawing as a child. I remember painting my first oil painting in probably first or second grade.  

TJ: Were your parents supportive of your ambition?  

SALKIN: Always. My aunt was an artist, my mother’s sister. Art was a very important part of my life growing up.   

“Two things I most like to use, even in my collages, are red, and leafing in gold, silver and copper.” Toby Salkin

TJ: You said you lived in New York. Did you study art there?

SALKIN: I took high school art classes. I thought I wanted to be a decorator, so I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I was married at twenty-two and had two children soon after, so we moved from New York and bought a house in a new development in Pine Brook, New Jersey. On warm nights, after the kids were bathed, I’d sit on my front stoop wearing bell bottoms with my long hair parted in the middle enjoying coffee or a glass a wine. I found out later from a neighbor who eventually became my friend, that she cried to her attorney husband that when she saw me that there were hippies in the neighborhood! I decided I needed to go to my local YMCA and take art classes. I had a fabulous teacher, a woman who encouraged me. One day she called me out of class and asked if I wanted to join a group of women painters who met at her studio to work. I was elated. At the time, I was doing cubist work in muted colors. When we moved to Westlake Village, California, it was the saddest thing to leave that class, because I loved it so much. I was so overwhelmed my last day at the Y, I accidentally walked out of an emergency exit door and sounded the alarm!  

TJ: Did you continue your art studies in California? 

SALKIN: One of the friends I made at Westlake Village was also an artist who told me about Everywoman’s Village in Van Nuys. This organization had opened at the time of the original women’s movement. It was a great space for women to paint, but, unfortunately, it’s now closed. I studied painting in Los Angeles with Alex Vilumson, a Russian artist who I would say brought me into the light. He had me using bright colors which I still use today. Most of my paintings start with red. I just love the bright intensity of it. Two things I most like to use, even in my collages, are red, and leafing in gold, silver and copper. I’m drawn to this. It just makes me happy.  

TJ: What is your approach to color? 

SALKIN: When I put my bright colors out on my palette, I don’t have anything definite going on. I just start on an idea. I use a lot more colors than most artist do. I also use black. 

TJ: What is the biggest challenge when starting a painting?

SALKIN: I think it’s usually around the idea of wanting to paint the next day but not yet knowing what to paint. Then I wake up around 3 o’clock in the morning with an idea, I think about it, and the next day I start by drawing on canvas. I very rarely start with a piece of paper. I often use photographic images that inspire me. I just finished a series of portraits of famous artists, including Picasso. One of my recent collages depicting war is called, “Make Love Not War,” that old slogan from my activist days in the Sixties when I was a hippie, even though I was married.

TJ: What part of the painting process is most challenging when painting? 

SALKIN: I start the painting, and I’m very excited. Then, after a three or four hours, which is the maximum I paint at one sitting, I look at it. At first I love it, then I hate it. That part is the most frustrating. I walk away from it but force myself to go back in a day or two. By the time I’m done I usually love it. 

TJ: Do you recall as a young female artist any struggles you faced amongst your male counter parts? 

SALKIN: The women’s movement always wanted us to be free. I always was. I was a woman who did what I wanted to do. I was able to be a stay-at-home mom, and I painted as well. Lately I’ve been thinking about the 60’s, and there’s no doubt about it, men were in control. I was very aware of this. I supported the movement and worked for the Democratic Party. One day, when I rang a doorbell while canvassing for the party, a woman opened the door and said, ‘Shouldn’t you be home with your children?’ ” 

TJ: Before you began painting in Los Angeles full time, what other passions did you possess? 

SALKIN: I sold real estate for thirty years, was a real estate office manager, and trained other agents. I loved it. 

TJ: When you’re not painting a specific subject matter, how do you approach the concept of abstract art?  

SALKIN: Abstraction is more difficult. I starting thinking it’s going to be one thing, but it becomes something else.   

TJ: Tell me about your love of painting old and antique cars? 

SALKIN: On a rainy summer’s day, I was waiting for my son in a house he had rented in East Hampton, Long Island. The home, belonging to a New Yorker cartoonist and writer, was filled with a variety of art books I had never seen. As I was enjoying going through the books, I looked up and saw an old Chevy parked in a covered area. I took a photo of it and later went home and painted it. I started looking at other cars, and soon old cars became a subject matter of mine. 

TJ: Do you work in any other art medium besides oil painting and contemporary collage? 

SALKIN: I’ve done stone carving and assemblage works with manikins. I love collage. Collage  artists are the ones who always have their heads down, picking up stuff from the street. I have a huge collection of papers, newspapers, old books etc. that I use as materials for inspiration. 

TJ: According to The Topanga Canyon Gallery website,

a group of artists got together in the spirit of the first Topanga Artists’ Guild in the 1950’s, and formed a collaborative space showing works of members that include, to this day, well-known as well as emerging artists from the greater Los Angeles area. Its mission is committed to “keeping art in the canyon alive.” What is one of your earliest memories as a gallery member, and how does the gallery work?   

SALKIN: I’ve been a member for about six years at its present location at Pine Tree Circle.  When I first joined, there was a wall dividing the space in half, front and back. Some of the artists came up with the idea of creating one big room. Instead of having work by artist members featured every month in the front, we now fill the space with four featured artists every other month, and a group member show on alternative months. Each member sits the gallery for a total of eight hours per month. You must be juried in to become a member and each artist pays a yearly membership fee. We also rent the gallery one month out of the year to an art organization for display of their work, and we conduct an annual tour of our artists’ home studios. 

TJ: Describe your art in one word.

SALKIN: Playful

TJ: Describe yourself in one word. 

SALKIN: Confused. No, eclectic!


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Topanga Canyon Gallery: Earth And Sky

Special To Topanga Journal

Perhaps there is nothing more feminist than the Earth. It is both dark and light, the sun always chasing the moon, the light inches ahead of the dark, the sky in equipoise between the earth below and the universe above, yin and yang continually in balance. Topanga Canyon Gallery will present in September four Topanga artists that represent these feminist qualities of our world in an exhibition they have titled Earth and Sky. The four artists are Donna Geist Buch, Jonna Gill, Connie Cambardella and Moises Mendoza. 

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

Geist Buch is an artist and musician and assemblage artist. She creates mixed media works that balance between abstraction and representation. She’s a self taught artist but also studied at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. 

For this series, Buch Geist says her paintings are, “acrylic, mixed media which includes texture mediums, different types of water based paints,  some have inks, charcoal pencil, pastels or an undercoating of leafing — gold or silver. This body of work is painted on canvas or wood panels. My assemblages are also mixed media: paint, paper, texture mediums, found objects, including man made objects, as well as natural occurring elements.”

“I find that there is nothing more beautiful and inspiring than nature, even in its most harsh of times. It has expression just like humans do.” Donna Geist Buch

The title of the exhibition being Earth And Sky, Geist Buch’s paintings are earthy delights. The eye catches abstracted forms of nature and semi-representations of trees or rocks, water and sky. Geist Buch says she finds inspiration for this series in balance between the abstract and representation.

“The earth and the sky are tangible references in time and I wanted to capture that. I find that there is nothing more beautiful and inspiring than nature, even in its most harsh of times. It has expression just like humans do. I wanted to capture that expression by utilizing the dramatic differences of night and day, playing with the dramatic effects of light effecting the earth and sky. My Assemblages were inspired by earth elements, as well as my imagination to create a sculptural formation.” 

Gill is a mixed media artist, photographer and metal smith who started her professional career in New York City. She studied several disciplines in Parsons School of Design, The Fashion Institute of Technology and The Art Students League Of New York. She blurs the lines of preconceived reality, challenging one to cinder the existence of what was not perceivable prior. With her jewelry work she mixes the earth’s elements to bring healing energy and joy.

When asked how does the emotional impact of wearing a piece of jewelry connect a person to the earth and sky, Gill said, “The basic components of jewelry come from the earth in the form of metals and gemstones. Working with jewelry for as long as I have, I’ve found gemstones and minerals from the earth to be magical. One may purchase a piece of jewelry because they are attracted to it aesthetically or emotionally; however, I think the wearing of a piece of jewelry comprised of metals and stones connects you to the earth, if only on a subconscious level. Starting out in the field of jewelry making, I was attracted to stones mainly for their beauty, color, feel, and texture. In the process of continually handling them, I became quite attracted to the metaphysical properties of the stones and have become quite sensitive to the vibration that each stone emits. Gemstones can positively affect your health, your mood, in a very real and tactile way and metals can amplify these properties. The emotional impact of wearing jewelry connects a person to the earth because the elements are a gift from Gaia, generated from primal source; the same source energy that flows through us.”

Getting a little more personal with this artist, we asked how did this project connect her to the earth and sky?

“This project made me concentrate more deeply on the earth, sky, the living, breathing home to humanity. According to scientists, the earth has been around for approximately 4.5 billion years, and we have managed to practically destroy it over the last 100 years alone. Through industrialization, coupled with I suspect immense greed, we have brought our home to the place where it is today: polluted water, dying species, declining air quality, worldwide temperatures so hot that people have been dying from the rising heat levels. I believe that Industrialization is not evil in and of itself, but forward strides must always be taken with consideration and responsibility to that which is precious, that which sustains us. The sky, (air), the earth, should be considered first and foremost today. Sadly, regulations and policies have been put into place in the recent past to protect the earth, which are currently being stripped away. One must start the day with gratitude for what one has, and carry that gratitude throughout the day and throughout one’s life. With that being said, I believe we should be thankful for the gift of earth, that which nourishes and sustains us and our priorities must hastily be put into place to protect her. My 2D work which will be exhibited at the Earth And Sky show as well, include a few illustrations in charcoal and pastel of a race of mystical beings that I have been told live in the Sun. Allegedly, they watch us through the sun and send us love in hopes that we will collectively realize that which is truly of utmost importance and act accordingly. They also hope that we will realize once again, where the source of our existence lies and that which is our true reason for being.” 

Cambardella is a photographer that connects the daily rhythms of life, nature, music and lifestyle. Her images transcend into feeling every beat, movement and splendor of beauty around us. 

When asked how her images help the viewer experience the earth and sky, Cambardella said, “They will transcend you into nature and expose the splendor of beauty that surrounds us, which is often overlooked. My wish is for the pictures to evoke emotion and awaken your senses to be one with nature. Hopefully in that moment, take your breathe away, fill your heart with peace, and connect you to exploring these wonders of our world.”

Deciding subject matter can be difficult sometimes. Cambardella has images from the local area return us to the beauty of our community. When asked how she decides what to photograph, she said, “With relevance to seasons, emotions, and the daily rhythms of life. I truly dig deep to what inspires me from within at that given time in my life. There’s usually a very fine line to what you see and how I feel inside my heart.”

Mendoza is a mixed media collage artists exploring the possibilities of surfaces and textures in still life and landscape imagery. Landscape is his primary inspiration, yet he uses form and shape cutting and remixing them into stylized abstracts. 

When asked if he thought his images contained ideas of climate change, Mendoza said, “When painting landscapes, as I am for this show, ideas of climate change are pretty inescapable. Especially as a California native, seeing the effects first hand around me with droughts and fires becoming the new normal, it tends to infiltrate most aspects of life, including my art. My work is non-political, I don’t tend to have messages or a narrative embedded in them. Instead I try to achieve a specific feeling, hopefully capturing the idyllic settings around us while they last. In the back of my mind I know these places may someday be unrecognizable, so for the time being I want to remember them in my own way.”

Mendoza’s work is unique and captures many aspects of California landscapes. When asked what techniques he brings to his work that enables him to open himself to his art, he said, “My work has a pretty specific technique to get it to look the way it does. A mix of graphic shapes and collage that I stumbled upon in my time in art school. I like to think it’s bold and a little loud, something that hopefully draws the eye from across the room. My personality is quite the opposite of those things. I am reserved and even timid around crowds of people, but with my art I can much more easily express myself and have it be an outlet for my inner extrovert. I’m one of those artists who would rather have the work itself speak on my behalf. Not out of apathy but rather a necessity, because I don’t feel I can adequately put into words the emotions and reasoning behind the work.”

Earth And Sky will be on exhibition September 5 through September 30. Please join the artists at their reception September 8th from 5:00 to 8:00 pm at Topanga Canyon Gallery, located at 120 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. , Topanga, CA 90290.  


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