Sigil by Raven Ebner

Unnatural History:
Raven Ebner
As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, Raven Ebner sublimated her artistic impulses to a regimen of courses in science. "I studied ecology and evolutionary biology and philosophy — art was always on the side," she says. Now it's the opposite: At 29, Ebner is a full-time artist in Albany who puts her love of science into her artwork.

Among Ebner's creations: jewelry that incorporates the small bones of animals, and paintings that detail an intricate family of made-up plants. In one, a vine has a vascular system (complete with blood flow) that mirrors a mammalian system. With their odd life-forms and intricate detailing, her paintings resemble vintage scientific illustrations. Surreal and macabre, the intermingling of life and death is evident in her work. "As an artist," she says, "the idea of making up your own world, with its own natural history, with its own animals and plants populating it, is very appealing to me."

Ebner, who was born in the Bay Area and raised in Arizona, had few role models in both science and art when she embarked on her career. She's been designing it as she goes. "I've been drawing all my life," she says, "but it was purely at the hobbyist level. Science seemed like the more pragmatic career, but when I finally confronted my dissatisfaction, I realized I wanted to do art full-time."

Hibiscus Rose Scarf by Jenne Giles

Far Beyond Pool Tables:
Jenne Giles
It's a fabric that dates back thousands of years, and it has thousands of uses beyond pool tables surfaces. Felt has a reputation for functionality, but as an art form? Hardly. Look at Jenne Giles' paintings, sculpture, and wearable art, though, and you realize that in the right hands felt is an inspired choice for artistic creations. Salvador Dalí used felt to make celebrated art. Giles does, too, now, after spending the first part of her career making art from clay and metal.

"You can do amazing things with felt," says Giles, who works and lives in Oakland. "It's a really wily medium. It's as raw a medium as paint."

Consider her Hibiscus Rose Scarf, which, when wrapped around a person's neck, opens out like a rose in bloom. Or consider Knotted Wing, two feathery wings that are as detailed as those attached to the Winged Victory of Samothrace, that masterful Greek sculpture that stands in the Louvre. Giles, 37, has worked with felt since 2005, and has operated a business that specializes in felt constructions since 2007. In the past few years, she's exhibited in group shows around the United States, and has been a finalist three times for a NICHE Award, given annually to top crafts artists. Thirteen years ago, not long after graduating from Rice University with a bachelor's degree in art and art history, Giles was making sculptures for Burning Man. Now her expertise is felt, and she couldn't be happier. "Each project," she says, "is an opportunity to learn from it."

Photograph by Josh Edelson

Into the Unknown:
Melinda James
A star yo-yo player who twirls his disk on a street in Santa Cruz. A young Oakland singer who waxes poetic about a broken relationship. A community of African-Americans focused on farming and food issues. The Bay Area residents in Melinda James' films have important things to say, but they often don't say them in popular media. James is trying to change that with nonfiction works that reveal the everyday lives of women and under-explored communities.

"As a queer woman of color, my stories are often left out of the discourse of mainstream experiences," says James, 27, who graduated last year from UC Santa Cruz with a master's in social documentation and now lives in Oakland. "By discovering filmmaking I found a way to not only share my story, but also the stories and images of other marginalized groups whose voices are unrecognized."

James' production company, About Her Films, already seems poised for bigger things. About Her, a short drama about a burgeoning lesbian relationship, screened at Framelines San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. Meanwhile, 16 Seeds, her short documentary about food activism in Oakland and in San Francisco's Bayview district, and Bandalore, about that yo-yo master, have shown at other Bay Area venues. Other stylish videos of singers and musicians are finding a home on the Internet.

Incorporating slow-motion and savvy musical backgrounds, James' films have both style and substance. "I'm trying," she says, "to reach out to different communities instead of just creating films that my friends would like."

A Means to an End by Michael Kerbow

Dirty Pictures:
Michael Kerbow
"I want these works to feel simultaneously funny and disturbing." San Francisco painter Michael Kerbow is talking about his series "Portents," which envisions a future where cars are piled up like discarded cigarette butts; where the center of a sprawling high-rise city is a huge pit threatening all that comes near; and where, in Their Refinement of the Decline, a colossal structure about 700 stories tall is spewing damaging smoke as it incinerates toxins, waste, and other environmental pollutants that are already damaging a sprawling metropolis. The over-burning of fossil fuels in dense, urban environments is a recurring theme in Kerbow's dystopian imagery — though he does, indeed, soften the misery with both absurdity and beauty.

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