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Blue Greenberg — Dan and Iris Gottlieb return to Craven Allen Gallery

Father-daughter teams in all sorts of professions are so prevalent today they are almost ordinary, yet they are uncommon enough to invite comparisons when they take center stage. Dan and Iris Gottlieb are returning to the Craven Allen Gallery on Broad Street in Durham after some three years. In the interim, Dan has supervised the development and renovation of N. C. Museum’s art park, his day job, and Iris has written a book.

The two artists work totally differently and, for the most part, in different media. Dan lives in Durham and is a photographer whose images are products of years of experimentation. His photography is an after-hours pursuit and combines painting, design and craft with photography.

Iris lives in the Bay area and is a freelance illustrator and lay scientist. Her images are precise drawings about the natural world which she uses in her job as an illustrator, animator, graphic recorder and layman scientist for museums, publications, groups and individuals. Over the past five years she has worked with museums across the country making scientific information accessible and fun and now has put it all down in a book, titled “Natural Attraction: A Field Guide to Friends, Frenemies, and Other Symbiotic Animal Relationships.”

Dan’s photographs are in the lower gallery and as I walked around following the images as they are hung on the walls I felt I was beside him while he was taking his pictures. In “Falling Leaves,” for example, it was as if I was looking up into a canopy of leaves with light streaming through.

Moving on, there are several pictures where I felt surrounded by the forest. Everything is misty; there is no ground, there is no sky. At one point I came onto skinny tree trunks and then everything became blurry as if I was moving through rain and then there was just the sky and I had reached some sort of ridge.

In “Sunday, Maybe Monday,” he found that one special tree, which loomed up like an apparition, bending to the elements of wind and rain. I liked Dan’s forest, because it was friendly, not frightening. His soft-focus romantic landscapes, a look back at the late 19th through early 20th century pictoralists, make his woods easy to wander.

Jazz has 4/3 time riffs and is, according to Dan, a metaphor for nature’s improvisations: an interplay of fixed and variable ingredients. In his gallery notes we learn about the hand-held Micro Four Thirds format cameras and lenses he uses. The core of his process for each image is a combination of photography, painting and craftsmanship and as he writes, “ample physical manipulation.” His technique is the result of years of trial and error. His photographs are reverse-printed on acrylic sheets and then painted. After all that he sands the surface to a matt finish. It is time consuming but each is one of a kind.

Iris’ images are from her book which is a combination of drawings and short essays about particular animals and birds and how one species relies on another. For example, there is a drawing of two fish, each with a shrimp hanging on, titled “Cleaner Shrimp Cleaning.” They illustrate her information about fish that get cleaned by shrimp. In the book, she writes the customers (the fish) could easily eat the shrimp, but then who would perform this important service for the fish. At the end of this lesson there is a “takeaway” which in this case is, “Don’t eat the shrimp that cleans you.”

In her tale of Clark’s nutcracker and whitebark pines, she tells the reader how the birds help propagate the trees. The nutcrackers go crazy for whitebark pine nuts. They tear into the pinecones to get the seeds and each one can stockpile over 90,000 during the winter months. Somehow they remember where they stored the seeds and recover them after the snow melts. What they do not eat, stay in the ground and become new trees. This is the bird’s primary food and no one knows what will happen to it when its endangered whitebark pine disappears.

Her takeaway is “Hoarders are helpers.”

In her commentary on the badger and coyote she describes how they help each other catch meat for food. The takeaway here is “The predators that play together stay together.”

The story of the newt and the garter snake, mortal enemies, is not one of cooperation. It seems evolution has allowed newts to produce ever greater toxic poisons, but has also fortified the garter snake against each increase.

The takeaway is “’Til death (by toxic overload) do us part.”

This science book, with its succinct bits of information told in a breezy style, accompanied by the perfect picture, is so much fun any child (or adult) will love it.

Her show also includes personal work and is arranged on the wall nestled among her images and stories about birds, coyotes and snakes.

In a series of self-portraits she muses about some very personal problems. For her, being public about “mental illness(es), borderline personality disorder, asexuality, navigating being from the South and my queerness, and struggling in general with being alive has been really helpful as part of my own process.”

She adds she hopes making representations of misunderstood subjects will help others and help her find compassion for herself. Searching for answers through art is not new; to have that avenue, however, is a gift.

Dan and Iris obviously share a background which, for her, included collecting dead and living things. For example, she has a collection of 3,614 shark’s teeth. Exploring the natural world and making it easier to understand marks her as an environmentalist like her dad.

While their artistic voices are different, the message is the same: each person must become a committee of one to protect our planet. Father and daughter share a love of this earth; their art reminds us of its fragility.

If you visit

“Dan Gottlieb: American Landscapes in 4/3 Time,” and “Iris Gottlieb: Natural Attraction & Personal Work,” are at the Craven Allen Gallery, 1106 1/2 Broad St., Durham, through July 1.

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