ORINDA -- Oakland artists say that although their city has gotten recent attention as a trendy, up-and-coming culinary and arts destination, the art community is a long-established one.

And while the Caldecott Tunnel separates Oakland from Orinda, artists say the two communities are very much intertwined, and share the same passion. They are among the pieces of the Bay Area art pie.

Like Orinda, the Oakland art community is an intimate network of artists who all know each other, said John Casey, who helped start Oakland Art Murmur, the first-weekend-each-month art gallery stroll.

"It's great the two areas are in close proximity to each other," said Casey. "It's a great crossover between the two communities."

Orinda and other Contra Costa County residents have "crossed over" to the other side of the tunnel to show their art in Oakland. Now, it's the Oakland artists turn to present their work in "The Passage," an exhibit at the Orinda Art Gallery featuring new art from seven professional artists from Oakland, Casey said.

"It's almost like a cultural exchange program between the two cities," he said. "Oakland is coming into its own maturity in terms of the arts, and Orinda has its own arts community. We've got to have this dialogue happening between the two art cultures. We're going into a different dimension but at the same time, there are still commonalities."


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Obi Kaufmann, one of the artists and an organizer of the Orinda show, used to run a gallery in Oakland and organized a live drawing event at an Oakland restaurant where the public was invited to watch as the artists worked.

"We are working artists who have known each other since Art Murmur began," said Kaufmann, an avid backpacker who's known for the paintings he creates during hikes on California trails. "We have a lot of experience in the art world."

"The Passage" features the work of Casey and Kaufmann and fellow artists at the Orinda show, which runs through July 1. All of the artists were selected because of the common themes and the stylistic synergy that's found in their work, Kaufmann said.

The use of the powerfully-graphic line in the employment of the human figure is what binds this group of artists together -- whether it is Lauren Napolitano's lyrical use of patterns across gentle renderings of human hands, or Jake Watling's whimsical sense of character balanced against subconscious, narrative stories. All of these artists understand the media-power of the beautifully-made image and its ability to convey underlying meaning, Kaufmann said.

Casey, a Massachusetts native who's felt right at home in the Oakland art scene, has work on display at the Orinda Library gallery that represents a big shift toward color.

"In the past, my two-dimensional figurative work has consisted of pen and ink, and pencil, and my sculpture has been mostly monochromatic," he said. "Late last year, after 20 years working in mostly black and white, I dove head first into color materials such as colored pencil, acrylics, watercolors and gouache. This show offered me the perfect opportunity to present my new color explorations in the context of a strong group show where other artists portray the human figure."

His favorite piece in the show is a painting titled "Beantown Beater." The character is a serious Red Sox fan, represented by his well-worn Sox cap.

"He can be seen outside Fenway Park scalping tickets on a hot summer day, in the shadow of the Big Green Monster," Casey said. "He's a tough fellow and a hustler, but completely in his element."

In addition to Casey and Kaufmann, the other Oakland artists are Watling, Napolitano (who uses found objects in her work), Patrick Dunaway, Crystal Morey and David Polka.

'The Passage -- New Art from Oakland Artists'
WHEN: Through July 1
WHERE: Orinda Library Gallery, 26 Orinda Way