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Collage artist Michael Acker uncovers layers of history

'My work is basically just my own personal reaction to my environment,' says photographer and artist Michael Acker, describing the innovative architectural art pieces that will be on display for two weeks in a new show titled 'The Way I See It.'

Says Acker, 'My point is to emphasize a sense of place, so if there happens to be a street sign visible in one of my photographs, I'll often enlarge it on my computer and paste it back in, just to call extra attention to the location I'm working with.'

Acker, who holds a master's degree from San Francisco State University, has won multiple awards for his unique photo-collage-watercolors, which he's displayed in galleries all over the state.

Locally, his most viewed contribution to Sonoma is the large painted mural on the Sonoma Valley Grange building on Highway 12.

As an aficionado of buildings, houses and other structures, the primary geographical subject of Acker's artwork over the last several years has been the Sonoma Springs area, where he lives, with an occasional exploratory dip into the neighborhoods around the Sonoma Community Center, where he works as rental booking manager.

As Acker explains it, each piece begins with a photograph of some interesting building or architectural detail Acker captures on his frequent walks. He then takes the photographs and composes them using a Photoshop program, often layering and fusing together many photographs from many different points of view.

'It never ends up looking like a photograph,' he says, 'and it never looks exactly like what you'd see by standing in one place.'

He then prints the images out on textured watercolor paper, and repeats the fusing-and-layering process again, assembling his piece with the added distinction of three dimensions.

'I basically compose the images as a physical collage,' he says. 'I paste the pieces all together, and then I paint on top of that, using water-based ink. Sometimes, the pieces really build up, and have a lot of texture when they're done.'

As part of Acker's process, further emphasizing the sense of place in each of his art works, he often incorporates historic archival photographs alongside his own photos.

'It involves doing a lot of research, which is fun, actually,' Acker says, adding that his finished pieces include captions with detailed information about the sources of the historical photos. 'It'll tell you that one photo is from 1909, and another from 1937, and a recent one from 2008, so you can trace the whole history of the building through the layers of the various images in the painting.'

Contact David at david.templeton@sonomanews.com.

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