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‘The River’s Depths’ at the Siskiyou Art Museum

08/25/2018 11:00AM ● By Tim Holt

River Art

September 2018
By Tim Holt

“PEOPLE IN THIS TOWN are going to be surprised when they see my new art show,” says Fred Gordon, whose colorful ceramic fish have graced the walls of shops and restaurants in Dunsmuir for decades.

With “The River’s Depths,” opening at the Siskiyou Arts Museum in Dunsmuir on Sept. 8, Gordon plunges into the world of abstract art, which allows him to make personal statements about nature and man’s relationship to it.

“This show has a lot more of me in it, what I see and what I feel,” he says.

“The River’s Depths” also features John Rickard’s haunting black-and-white photos of the McCloud River, where Rickard works as a fishing guide. (His company, Wild Waters Fly Fishing, employs Gordon during part of the fishing season.) Rickard's book of photos, “The McCloud River,” will be available at the show.

He got an early start on his dual careers as artist and fishing guide. His father was an avid fly fisherman and a noted watercolor artist in Gordon’s hometown of Sacramento. Taking his cue from his father, Gordon started painting as a child, and at an early age was accompanying his dad on fishing trips to the Upper Sacramento River.

That’s where he began his career as a fly fishing guide. By the 1970s, he already had a second home in Dunsmuir. By the early 1990s, he had settled in the town permanently.

Gordon describes his show at Siskiyou Arts Museum as a study in contrasts, the “organic versus the mechanical.” The artist’s medium is still ceramic, with a glaze and a surface quality that, in Gordon’s view, evokes the color and texture of shimmering water and river rock.

But the simple, decorative artwork Gordon’s followers have grown used to has been replaced with a bewildering array of images: Fish with electric motors instead of tails, an artillery gun mounted on a fish head, a funky floating vessel that’s half fish and half boat, captained by a duck.

Gordon is clearly having fun with all of this, but he also wants to stimulate viewers’ thoughts and their imagination, to get them thinking about a “hybrid” world, one in which man interacts with and alters nature, in which machines and technology play an increasingly dominant role in both human and natural environments.

In addition to his other pursuits, Gordon is also an avid skin diver. Many of his ceramic fish are actually molds of real fish, fish he’s captured off the West Coast, in Caribbean waters, and off the coast of New Zealand, where he fishes and skin dives in the wintertime.

Rickard, who began getting into serious photography as a teenager, describes his current work on the McCloud as “little conversations I have with the river.”

He uses his photography to put the river in its larger context, shows it framed by snowbanks in the winter or with mist-shrouded forests on its banks in the early morning light. 

“I try not to get seduced by the river’s beauty,” he says. “I want to go deeper than that, to look at all the river’s aspects: physical, spiritual and emotional.” •

‘The River’s Depths’ Siskiyou Arts Museum, 

5824 Dunsmuir Ave. • Sept. 8 through Oct. 6 

Hours: Thursday through Saturday, 11 am to 4 pm; Sundays, noon to 4 pm

Opening reception for the artists: Sept. 8,  5-7 pm 

(530) 235-4711