Art exhibits are one of the many things that have been put on hold during the pandemic. But Napa Valley artist William Callnan III is determined to cheer up the public by exhibiting his quirky and colorful mixed media pieces. This Saturday, a “Covid-safe” solo show of his works opens at CAMi Art + Wine in downtown Calistoga. (To keep visitors safe and maintain proper social distancing, reservations are required via the CAMi website.)
Callnan’s upcoming exhibit will introduce art lovers to an inimitable style, which utilizes everyday objects, like toys, in the artist’s creations of fantastical three dimensional oil paintings. The Napa Valley artist wants art viewers to not only “feel like a kid again” but also get a “sense of wow”. He envisions that patrons of the exhibit will become “moving viewers” as they discover his three dimensional pieces from constantly changing, multiple perspectives.
The show at CAMi Art + Wine will comprise 12 pieces, including two of Callnan’s most recent works. “Social Distance,” depicts a forest scene with Pee-Wee’s Playhouse-style furniture; “Keep Swimming,” depicts a phantasmagoric sundial: giant rubber duck in center; soft baby toys forming its circumference.
Callnan likes the idea of viewers interacting with his art.
“One of the things that always struck me with painting is that you create this portal, but I think (the viewers) are always going to be able to make better portals,” he said. “How amazing would it be if you could go up to the Mona Lisa and change her smile?”
CAMi owner Laurie Shelton, also an artist, likewise enjoys the interactive element of Callnan’s art.
“Will’s work is colorful and different and explosive and exciting — the show will be the perfect way to kick off the new year and let go of 2020,” she said. “People need art right now, they need food for their souls.”
Callnan, a native of Vermont, does all his 3-D painting in his garage—what could be a more fitting place to paint for an artist who utilizes discarded objects for artistic repurpose. In addition to creating mixed-media paintings, he operates NBC pottery with his wife Nikki Ballere Callnan.
Working out of an expansive studio on their back lot, the Callnans create custom ceramics for luxury restaurants and resorts in Wine Country and beyond. These projects have included plates and bowls for chefs Christopher Kostow and Thomas Keller and ceramic products for the new Montage luxury resort in Healdsburg. Before the pandemic, the couple also taught ceramic classes at Nimbus Arts in St. Helena.
Incessantly hard at his artistic work, Callnan was particularly prolific during last year’s LNU Complex Fire. With his family safely evacuated, he opted to stay behind with local artist friends to paint in their barn studio. When Callnan returned to his garage from his friend’s barn over a week later, he carried with him half a dozen haunting paintings depicting the lightning and the flames. (None of Callnan’s fire paintings will be featured in the CAMi show — Shelton had requested that the pieces exhibited this time be “happy” and steer away from the traumas of 2020.)
Shelton notes that she has taken every precaution to make the CAMi art show as Covid-safe as possible. Guests must register in advance via Tock, a ticketing system platform, for a 30-minute window. No more than seven guests are allowed inside the tasting room at any given time. Face masks are required and, to allow proper air circulation, the windows to the tasting room will be open and an air purifier installed.
Under the conditions of the current public health order in Napa County, CAMi is not allowed to pour wine to guests. But visitors to the art show will be able to purchase wine in the tasting room, as well as snacks, to bring home with them.
As of now, the exhibit is scheduled to end Tuesday, February 9, but Shelton said she may keep Callnan’s work on the walls through Valentine’s Day. Callnan and Shelton will be available most days to engage with visitors and answer questions, and Callnan says he is open to extending the exhibition.
“I’m just happy people get to see my art,” he said. “It’s certainly something you remember.”