"Order of Magnitude 12", a piece by Judith Belzer from her current exhibition.

An exhibition of the work of Judith Belzer and Nina Zurier, two artists who live and work in Berkeley, opened this week at the George Lawson Gallery in San Francisco. While neither artist would necessarily say their art reflects the city they call home, in both cases their work has been directly influenced by where they live and how they spend their time here.

For Belzer, it was a move west which, she says, had an impact on her perspective and on the art she created. “My work has always been based on nature, but when I was on the East coast I saw things up close, I was engaged with nature in a very visual and visceral way,” she says.

Judith Belzer.

In California, the sheer scale of landscapes — the enormous trees, the open vistas — led Belzer to explore nature in a different way. “Those big trees are nature as icons, a big vertical on the horizon” she says. Rather than try to capture what she sees in its entirety, Belzer scrutinizes the detail, homing in on bark patterns or the swirling lines found on a felled log or tree stump, to create an evocative, abstract image.

Radio host Sedge Thomson has a Belzer piece in the Berkeley home he shares with his wife, novelist Sylvia Brownrigg, and their children. “The Judith Belzer diptych has a great elemental quality,” he says. “The painting puts you inside the skin and somehow the heart of the tree itself (a eucalyptus, the much-maligned tree) — in such a way that the picture almost becomes abstract. Quite apart from being beautiful, of course, in technique and balance of browns and greens and blues. Naturally, it’s above our fireplace.”

Belzer works in her studio in her north Berkeley home. She paints from memory and sense, rather than from life. She says her latest work — on view as two series titled “Order of Magnitude” and “Order of Things” — represents a new direction. “My earlier work was more tied-together, more finished. This is looser with new colors. I’m trying to open up.”

"Make Me One With Everything", a work by Berkeley artist Nina Zurier.

Nina Zurier also works close to home at her studio on Blake Street. Before becoming a full-time artist, Zurier was Head of Exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum. She says it was only once she left that post, in 1998, that she could consider dedicating herself to art.

“It’s hard to have a perspective on your own work when you see such impressive art every day,” she says. Zurier took up art seriously after taking a job at the San Francisco Art Institute which, she says, was conducive to creativity. Being surrounded by both mature and fledgling artists gave me a different outlook; it was a supportive environment.”

Nina Zurier.

Now working with photography, Zurier’s deftly juxtaposed, multiple images, titled “Conditions and Connections” tell open-ended stories.

“I am interested in making a kind of open-ended, non-linear visual narrative, a narrative that is neither logical nor realistic,” she says.

Zurier’s San Francisco exhibition with Belzer is running concurrently with another installation of Zurier’s work at the Library Gallery at the California State University Sacramento.

The joint exhibition is at George Lawson Gallery on Geary Street through the month of September. An opening reception will be held on September 9, 5.30-7.30pm.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...