California artist Benny Alba's series American Storms on display at Heritage Center

Chuck Wickenhofer
Alba's painting “Vigil (Rain that Never Touches Down).”

The Lake Region Heritage Center is presenting works from California artist Benny Alba, whose American Storms series captures her interpretation of driving through the Montana countryside one winter.

Alba, who lives and works on the 6th floor of a warehouse that houses many fellow artists, submitted over twenty works to the Heritage Center, which will be on display through the month of June.

Created in a three year span between 2013-2016, American Storms reflects a theme that Alba continues to develop. She says that she was stricken by the drama inherent in thunderstorms at a young age.

“When I was a little girl we had a place at the edge of a lake, and (once) there was a huge thunderstorm,” Alba said. “I was terrified and my mother and the dog were too; we watched the storm, and ever since then I've seen them as some people see the theater or movies. It's like a symphony; in the paintings there is a big drama and then there's the aftermath. Then there's the tranquility.”

Her interest in capturing the mystery of storms on canvas was sparked during her sojourn through Montana.

“I drove through a deserted area where I just watched a whole sweep of storm systems across this long deserted drive,” Alba said. “It was winter; I just propped my camera up on my steering wheel and took pictures. I took those images and thought how my artistic self could interpret them.”

Alba reports that though she comes from a long line of artists, she came close to pursuing a different path.

“I come from generations of artists,” Alba said. “My great grandma was an artist and my grandmother is an accomplished pianist; my mother was a very serious artist in a different field. My dad was a high level manager and inventor.”

“My teachers used to say, ‘You should go into interior design,’ ” Alba continued. “Those were the days when girls were more shuffled off to the side. My whole life I said, ‘No, no, I don't want to do art.’ I fought it; I didn't become an artist until my mid-twenties.”

Now that Alba is decades into her successful career, her experience has solidified the process she employs when rendering a new painting.

“There’s the initial feeling where I'm not thinking in analytical terms, and that part of the creative process takes years,” Alba said. “I can think on a subconscious level, on and off, for long periods of time. Then there’s the period where the rubber hits the road and I’m actually physically (painting). Depending on the size of the works in a show, they (often) take about a month each.”

After completing about 400 paintings during her career, Alba says that she is interested in returning to North Dakota. She spent time camping in the Peace Garden State as a teenager, and is now intrigued by the prospect of painting winter landscapes.

“I think North Dakota is gorgeous,” Alba said. “I would love to spend a week up there in the winter; I love snow, it purifies the landscape.”

As with most artists, Alba’s desire is to render paintings that not only impress an audience, but convey a certain sense of mystery in order to have staying power.

“I would like people to look at my work, long after I’m gone, and say, ‘Oh, so that's what that person was thinking,’ ” Alba said. “Like Georgia O’Keefe, or Picasso, or anyone, you say, ‘Wow, what the hell was going their head when they did this?’

“That’s the stuff that lasts,” Alba added. “The stuff that’s very predictable is wonderful for its time, but doesn’t continue to interest for centuries. I want my work to be what’s called archivally sound.”

Alba reports that she is thankful for the opportunity to have her work seen at the Heritage Center and across the country in her continued effort to make a lasting artistic impression.

“I’m very grateful to be given these shows,” Alba said. “Artists want our work to be seen, most of all, and we want our work to be cherished even more. To be visible, have new eyes on our work, is the best part of all, along with the pleasure of making it.”