Israels changing landscape still inspires Bay Area artist

Four teenagers sit at a table holding paintbrushes, while several adults study finished paintings on the walls. Children make themselves at home in the open studio, three watching videos of the artist at work, another examining  a sculpture in the corner. In the center of the room is Tamar Assaf, standing at her easel, creating ocean waves on canvas.

Tamar Assaf

Assaf grew up in Israel and moved to the Bay Area a dozen years ago. Her residency this month at Golden Gate Park’s de Young Museum recreates her studio in the  Kimball Educational Gallery, allowing visitors to observe and participate in her work, from research and conception through creation and presentation.

Assaf explores how human activity can taint and overwhelm ecosystems, creating imbalance and forcing many species into extinction. She makes her point with severely cropped images of animals, in which the whole creature isn’t shown, just a recognizable color, pattern or body part. “I’m trying to portray the essence of the animal, what defines it, without too much elaboration,” she says. “I’m not making the animals small. I’m making the space small to show how nature is becoming more and more confined.”

Assaf’s inspiration comes from her childhood in Rehovot, Israel, which in the past was known for its orange orchards and hills of wildflowers. Over the years housing projects, roads and concrete spread over the landscape, invading the nature that she knew and loved.

At the museum, Assaf is working on a series about the non-native aquatic species that are altering the ecosystem of San Francisco Bay. Her stay in the Kimball gallery is part of the museum’s family-oriented artist-in-residence program, which brings a different artist to the museum each month.

Tamar Assaf is in her studio from 1-5 p.m.Wednesdays through Sundays, and 6-8:45 p.m. Fridays, through Sept. 2 at the de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F. Free with museum admission. Closing reception 6-8:45 p.m. Aug. 31.