Inverness native with environmental cause paints emotional topography

Angela Tirrell
"Storm," on display at First Valley Inverness in July, features painter Angela Tirrell's stirring textures and reflects her hopes to use art as social and environmental activism.  

Intense natural destruction and rejuvenation are central themes in the paintings by Angela Tirrell on exhibit this month at First Valley Inverness. Ms. Tirrell’s upbringing in Inverness had a huge effect on her philosophy and work, which is often political and environmental in nature. “The scents, the lushness, the tranquility, beauty of wildlife, it was so magical, and it still is to me,” she said last week. One piece on display in the shop, titled “Glacial,” evokes the pristine nature of a toxin-free ocean. Ms. Tirrell explained that the mosaic of blue and white dashes is “a prayer that we understand, on a fundamental level, how essential water is.” The crisp glacial hues are subtly threatened from above by darker inky tones standing in for pollution. Another painting, called “Storm,” is about her “deep grief over the drought. It’s a beautiful, joyous piece with my vision of the wild storms of El Niño.” Glass, oil, pastel, metallic pigment and powder pigment interact in gold constellations and blue streaks; along with shards of black glass, they form a sort of emotional topography—the weight of hope and fear. Ms. Tirrell worked in New York as an art administrator and fundraiser before she founded her own mural company at age 27, taking the leap to devote all her time to art. “It was mesmerizing to me that you could, just with paint, create an entire emotional environment. That to me is what is powerful about murals,” she said, adding that she hopes to create large-scale murals on ecological and social justice topics around the world. So far, her reputation earned her the commission of a mural in La Porziuncola Nuova, a scaled replica of Saint Francis’s Porziuncola in Italy, in the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi in North Beach. Following the medieval guild tradition, Ms. Tirrell took on six apprentices from the Academy of Art University to create the soaring, 13th century-style work. She now lives in Napa but keeps a studio at a family home in Inverness. This month, her work is also on display at Salon 9 on Maiden Lane in San Francisco and in the Yountville Community Center in Napa.