An arrangement of blue-violet glass forms on a wood floor.
Gay Outlaw, Untitled (Jellyfish Floor), 2007. Courtesy the artist .

Gallery 1
Opening Reception June 29
On view June 30 – October 6, 2024

M is for Water is the latest in a series of exhibitions curated by artist Isabelle Sorrell exploring the origins of language and its relation to human consciousness. Bringing together figurative and abstract work from a diverse group of artists, the exhibition probes questions of elemental materiality and perception, examining the roots of language where our differentiation between “water” and “mother” begin to diverge. 

M is for Water finds its source in water’s gift of vitality, akin to a mother giving life. We observe a reflection of this in language, in its early pictograms and alphabets.

“M,” believed to be one of the first letters of the Phoenician alphabet, had an antecedent in the Egyptian hieroglyph describing “water,” and its history is intertwined with its mirror: “W”. Words with a common etymology convey meanings that reveal the source of life in Nature and Humans alike.

1. water
For the Egyptians the water ripple pictogram was also the symbol of the Tree of Life. Their god, Khnemu, was associated with water and human birth. It was believed that he had created humankind from clay.

2. mother
Mut was a mother goddess in ancient Egypt and was considered a primal deity associated with the primordial waters of Nu from which everything in the world was born. The letter “M” reflects the sacredness of these shared Origins: There is no Life without Water, there is no Child without Mother.

– Isabelle Sorrell

This exhibition is supported in part by John and Pam Story.

Featuring work by:

Shiva Ahmadi
Mari Andrews
Mildred Howard
Paul Kos
Hung Liu
Cheryl Meeker
Susan Middleton
Gay Outlaw
J. John Priola
Isabelle Sorrell
Theodora Varnay Jones
Wanxin Zhang

Curated by Isabelle Sorrell

Related Programs and Events

Opening Reception
Saturday, June 29

5:30 – 6 p.m.
Patrons Circle Preview 

6 – 7 p.m.
Public Opening Reception
$10 General | Members Free

Artists Panel Discussion
Saturday, July 13 | 2 – 3:30 p.m.

Included with Gallery Admission
$25 General | Members Free

Moderated by guest curator Isabelle Sorrell, exhibition artists Paul Kos, Wanxin Zhang, Susan Middleton, Mari Andrews, and Gay Outlaw will discuss their work and the themes of the exhibition.

Limited seating available, first-come first-served.

About the Artists

Shiva Ahmadi is an Iranian-American artist based in the Bay Area. Represented by Haines Gallery, Ahmadi utilizes a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, and animation to tell stories. She combines luminous colors and mystical beings with violent imagery, drawing attention to global issues such as migration, war, and brutality against marginalized peoples. Having received her BFA from Azad University (Tehran) and MFA from Cranbook Academy of Art, she has had solo exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, and Asia Society Museum, New York. Ahmadi’s work has been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Dallas Museum of Art; and Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, among others. The recipient of numerous grants and awards including the Kresge Fellowship and Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant, she is currently a professor of art at the University of California, Davis.

Mari Andrews is known for delicate, haiku-like sculptures that she has been making for the past 20 years. Her three-dimensional drawings combine collected natural objects like seeds, leaves, moss, and stones with linear man-made materials, such as metal wire. She has had solo exhibitions at the Monterey Art Museum, Palo Alto Art Center, and San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, among others; and exhibited in group exhibitions at venues including the Sun Valley Museum of Art, Ketchum, ID, and Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

Mildred Howard was born in 1945 in San Francisco, and raised in South Berkeley, California. Her parents had an antiques business and were politically active in labor unions, civil rights struggles and other community issues. She received an MFA degree in 1985 from John F. Kennedy University, California. Howard began her adult creative life as a dancer, before working in visual art. In the early 1980s, her installations took the form of manipulated windows from storefronts and churches. They later evolved into constructed habitats that provided walk-in environments. For example, in 1990 she created a house made of engraved bottles and sand in the atrium of the California Afro-American Museum in Los Angeles, inspired by the book Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson and it makes visual reference to the bottle houses that Johnson describes in the book. In 2005, she fabricated and installed a house made of red glass at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. In 2019, Howard’s work “TAP: Investigation of Memory” was exhibited at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibit was a multimedia installation that examines themes of identity, church culture, gentrification, dance, and activism. Howard is represented by Anglim/Trimble Gallery, San Francisco,  Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, Los Angeles and Franklin Parrasch, New York.

Paul Kos, a leading member of the Bay Area Conceptual Art movement since the 1960s, is best known for sculptural installations incorporating video, sound, and interactivity. Having received his MFA in 1967 from the San Francisco Art Institute, he went on to teach at the institution for more than thirty years. He has been the subject of major retrospectives at both di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. His work is included in public museum collections including Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, New York and Louis Vuitton Foundation, among others. He is the recipient of numerous awards including Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in video and audio, and multiple National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. Kos is represented by Anglim Trimble in San Francisco and Gallery Georges Philippe and Nathalie Vallois in Paris, France.

Hung Liu (1948-2021) was a renowned contemporary artist known for her powerful paintings based primarily on historical Chinese photographs, and installations addressing the racial and cultural complexities she witnessed upon immigrating to the United States at the age of 36. After receiving her MFA from the University of California, San Diego, she exhibited internationally at institutions including the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. She was a professor of painting at Mills College, Oakland, for many years. Represented by Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, she was the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and Oakland Museum of California.

Cheryl Meeker is a visual artist based in San Francisco whose work ranges from photography to installation, drawing, painting, archives, video, interactive web projects, and social sculpture, often touching on the fundamentals of sustenance in our environmentally destabilized world. Holding a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, she is a founding member of, and has frequently collaborated with artist Dan Spencer as the art team Dan and Cheryl, producing actions, panel simulations, and video. Her ongoing activism with the housing and climate justice movements and recent work in the public library system inform her approach. She was one of the organizers of Capitalism Is Over! If You Want It, and her work has been exhibited in San Francisco at Artists’ Television Access, Mission 17, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Southern Exposure. 

Susan Middleton is an artist, photographer, author, and educator specializing in the portraiture of rare and endangered animals, plants, sites, and cultures. She was Chair of the Department of Photography at the California Academy of Sciences from 1982 to 1995, where she now serves as research associate. Her most recent book, Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, was published by Abrams in 2014. Middleton was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009, and is the recipient of an Endangered Species Coalition Champion Award for Education and Outreach and a Bay & Paul Foundation Biodiversity Leadership Award. Middleton’s photographs have been exhibited and published throughout the world, both in fine art and natural history contexts, and her work is represented in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art and the National Academy of Sciences. She lives in San Francisco.

Gay Outlaw was born in 1959 in Mobile, Alabama. “When I was a kid, I loved to bake. I liked sweets and still do. I was taught to knit, and needle point, and cross stitch and embroidery, I did all that stuff … Much later, it was photography that lead me to making objects. The pastry work came because I sat in a class about ephemeral, site-specific work with Paul Kos at the Art Institute…”. Gay Outlaw received her BA in French from the University of Virginia in 1981. In 1981-1982 she studied Pastry at the École de Cuisine La Varenne, in Paris. After Paris, she moved to New York and took classes at the International Center for Photography between 1987-1988. She has been based in San Francisco for a little over three decades. Her early work was made of perishable items such as pastry and caramels but as a whole, she is known for her exploration of materials. In 1995, she created a 34-foot-long wall of fruitcake bricks and installed it at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. She embraces the transformations that occur with these materials in flux, challenging people’s expectations of sculpture being static or made of set materials. Outlaw’s recent work includes assemblages with her photographs and cast glass sculptures. The range of her work spans sculpture, photography, printmaking and lately painting. In 2020 she completed three acclaimed commissions, ”Bird Plane House,” “Intersection,” and “Shell,” for the San Francisco International Airport, Terminal One South Courtyard.

J. John Priola received his MFA from SFAI in 1987. His work has been shown in many exhibitions, including In A Different Light, Berkeley Art Museum and Prospect ’96, the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany. His work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Art Institute of Chicago. Arena Editions published a monograph of his work in 1998. A recent monograph “Natural Light” was published by Kehrer Verlag in 2022. Priola taught at SFAI for 25 years, and at ICP Bard, SF State, and CCA. He is represented by Anglim/Trimble Gallery, San Francisco; Joseph Bellows, LaJolla, CA; and Weston Gallery, Carmel, CA.

Isabelle Sorrell is a painter and curator living and working in San Francisco. Holding an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, she has exhibited her work at institutions including di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, CA;  Anglim/Trimble Gallery and Meridien Gallery, San Francisco. She has curated exhibitions at Jules Maeght Gallery, Fuse Space, Bass & Reiner, and Anglim/Trimble Gallery, San Francisco. Sorrell has taught painting at San Francisco Art Institute; the University of Lausanne, Switzerland; and at American College of Leyzin, Switzerland; and History of Graphic Design at Art Center school of Design in La Tour de Peilz, Switzerland.


Theodora Varnay Jones is a visual artist working in 2D and 3D mediums. Represented by Don Soker Gallery, San Francisco, she has been the subject of numerous one-person exhibitions. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is held in public collections in the US, Hungary, Costa Rica, and Japan. She was born in Budapest, Hungary, and lives and works in San Francisco.

Wanxin Zhang is a Chinese-American sculptor based in San Francisco, known for his large-scale ceramic figures, formless ceramic structures, and bronze pieces. Represented by Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, his works have been showcased in various international competitions and biennales, including The 22nd UBE Sculpture Competition in Japan, Taiwan Ceramics Biennale, and the Anren Biennale in China. He received awards such as the Joan Mitchell Painter and Sculptor Grant, the Virginia A. Groot Foundation First Place, and a curatorial award from the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.